Strategies to bioengineer peripheral nerves are being developed in John Haycock’s group. Injuries to the peripheral nervous system (PNS) are extremely common and although nerve regeneration is possible, this typically occurs over very short distances of 1-2mm. The use of entubulation devices such as nerve guidance conduits (NGC) provides a favourable microenvironment and a degree of basic physical guidance for improving the rate of nerve growth.
The delivery of Schwann cells to an injured nerve can improve growth and alignment. Present work in the group is using fabricated aligned microfibre scaffolds made from the hydrolysable polymers (poly-L-lactide and polycaprolactone) by high-speed electrospinning.
Fibres have then been surface coated using acrylic acid plasma polymerisation which can improve the ability to support Schwann cell adhesion and growth. Once the scaffold conditions have been established for the optimal support of Schwann cell growth, they can be constructed to form experimental nerve guidance conduits for the 3D culture of Schwann cells using a closed loop perfusion bioreactor.
Above: the design of a perfused bioreactor for culturing Schwann cells under controlled flow conditions and confocal micrographs of alive (green) and dead (red) Schwann cells growing on aligned PLLA microfibers. The confocal image also illustrates the importance of an acrylic acid deposition, where the top panel is PLLA fibres alone and the bottom panel is PLLA fibres coated with acrylic acid.