Healthy nerves mean healthy muscles. A symbiotic relationship of trophic factors and cascading signals encourage the overall well being of both systems. Consequently, by furthering this relationship, there rests the implication that if one is in poor health then the other is too. This is exactly the case. An injury to a region of the peripheral nervous system results in the cessation of muscle growth and eventual atrophy. Therefore, a simple method of determining nerve regeneration after surgery is to compare the size of a muscle of the injured portion of the body to its symmetrical counterpart on the uninjured side. Yet, the current standard of evaluating muscle recovery poses a challenge of its own.
After surgical reinveration, muscle recovery is determined by wet muscle mass. The process, however, requires the sacrifice of an animal subject in order to excise and weigh the muscle in its entirety. Researchers at the New Jersey Center for Biomaterials have begun using MRI technology to test different volumetric estimations of the quadriceps muscle in rats. Due to the uniform density of mammalian skeletal muscle, muscle mass and volume are directly proportional. Therefore, MRI detection of volume change can accurately determine growth or recession of muscle mass.
Nonetheless, the greatest overall benefit is in the procedural reduction pertaining to the test animals. Through the use of this innovative method, the researchers were about to decrease general animal use and surgical time by 75% and time of post-operative care by 88%. More importantly, each subject’s muscle recovery can be repeatedly evaluated over time, thus lessening the requirement for sacrifice for every measurement. By utilizing MRI technology, the researchers are still able to obtain accurate data while saving time, money, and animals.