Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a method of creating scaffolds for tissue engineering applications, providing an alternative that is more flexible and less time-intensive than current technology.
Through tissue engineering, researchers aim to regenerate human tissue — such as bone and cartilage — that has been damaged by injury or disease.
Scaffolds — artificial, lattice-like structures capable of supporting tissue formation — are necessary in this process to provide a template to support the growing cells. Over time, the scaffold reabsorbs into the body, leaving behind the natural tissue.
According to Northwestern, scaffolds are typically engineered with pores that allow the cells to migrate throughout the material.
The pores are often created with the use of salt, sugar or carbon-dioxide gas, but these additives have various drawbacks. They create an imperfect pore structure and, in the case of salt, require a lengthy removal process after the pores are created, said Guillermo Ameer, professor of biomedical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and professor of surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine.
The scaffolds, created from a combination of ceramic nanoparticles and elastic polymers, were formed in a vacuum through low-pressure foaming that requires high heat, said Ameer. The result was a series of pores that were highly interconnected and not dependent on the use of salt.
The process is said to create scaffolds that are highly flexible and can be tailored to degrade at varying speeds depending on the recovery time expected for the patient.
The scaffolds can also incorporate nano-sized fibres — providing a new range of mechanical and biological properties, said Ameer. ‘The technology could prove very useful in repairing anterior cruciate ligament tears and in bone void fillers.’
A paper describing the results, ‘Low-Pressure Foaming: A Novel Method for the Fabrication of Porous Scaffolds for Tissue Engineering’, was featured in the February issue of the journal Tissue Engineering.