Biomimicry Regenerates Nerve Cells With 'Cotton Candy' In Polymer
Biomedical engineers from Perdue University have developed a method of providing nourishment to damaged nerves by mimicking the structural assembly of natural nerves. By building synthetic scaffolds of "cotton candy" and polymer around the cells, the engineers were able to attract and nourish the neurons.
Below is a microscopic image of the scaffolds, colorized, showing the sugar substance in yellow and the polymer in blue.
Once the sugar filaments dissolved, the hollow polymer tubes remained and the Perdue team then added Schwann cells, insulating cells that encourage nerve cell growth, to the tubes. The Schwann cells automatically aligned inside and outside of the polymer tubes, and attracted nerve cells which grew on top of the Schwann cells. The researchers found that the small pores in the polymer tubes performed to supply nutrients to the nerve cells, as well as to remove waste products from the cells.
The following images show Schwann cells growing on a tubule on the left side, and a combination of Schwann cells and nerve cells aligned along tubes on the right.
The Perdue biomedical researchers are hoping that this scaffolding technique can be used to regenerate peripheral nerves or blood vessels damaged by injuries or disease. (Repairing damage to spinal nerves is more complex.) They cite that the "cotton candy" technique is relatively simple and inexpensive compared to other methods.
Though the reported experiments occurred in petri dishes, the studies will continue in animal subjects.