Natural-synthetic Nanofibrous Conduits for Nerve Regeneration

Principal Investigator: Miqin Zhang

Nerve autograft has been a typical treatment for large-gap nerve damage that cannot be directly repaired with sutures; but it is limited by donor site morbidity, inadequate return of function, aberrant regeneration and shortage of donor tissues. A good alternative is to use a nerve guide conduit to promote nerve regeneration and to provide a pathway for nerve outgrowth. Some promising polymeric nanofibers have been developed; however, very few of them succeed in showing structural stability and pliability in physiological environment, due to poor miscibility, inhomogeneity and weak mechanical strength.

Dr. Miqin Zhang’s laboratory at the University of Washington has developed a type of natural-synthetic ployblend nanofiber comprising chitosan-polycaprolactone (chitosan-PCL) fibers to serve as conduits for nerve regeneration. When compared with PLGA and collagen nanofibers, the new conduit has much higher compressive strength and is less susceptible to wetting, with much higher moduli when wet while retaining relatively similar breaking strengths. Both Schwann cells and PC12 cells exhibited the most significant spreading on the chitosan-PCL fibers in vitro. Furthermore, Chitosan-PCL nanofibrous conduits are effective in vivo for nerve regeneration in a rat sciatic defect model. With superior mechanical and chemical properties, the chitosan-PCL fibers combine the PCL’s structural stability with chitosan’s bioactivity in a stable phase miscible form, and offer a new nanofibrous platform that has more pliability in physiological environments.

With about 469,000 neural or neuromuscular patients every year, nerve regeneration has been an important part of tissue engineering. The total market for tissue engineering was predicted to reach $15 billion by 2011, with a total potential of $80 billion, according to the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative and Business Week (July 27, 1998).

For more info, contact: Lisa Norton

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