Bio-Scaffolds that can mimic the extracellular environment; encouraging cellular organisation and tissue function are essential for the future development of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. The current reliance on sources of animal extracellular matrix (ECM) is not sustainable. Such scaffolds need to have both a large surface area to volume ratio and an interconnected pore structure in order to proactively support and direct cell function within the matrix. There is strong demand for viable bioprosthetic structures that replicate the physiological setting.
In response to this clinical need, Ulster University has developed a patented technology for the production of aligned and non-aligned scaffolds from natural and synthetic polymers. The well-established electrospinning process working in combination with a novel atmospheric pressure cold plasma treatment regime can produces these scaffolds.
The resulting scaffolds have been shown to have a higher propensity for cell adhesion, migration, attachment and proliferation compared to relevant controls.
This innovative development is unusual in that it combines technologies from different fields, surface plasma treatment and the electrospining technique, in order to produce bio-scaffolds of randomly orientated polymer fibres, which have fibre and void dimensions of the right size to mimic the cellular microenvironment and encourage cell growth. These scaffolds have the potential for use as implants in cardiovascular, dermal, and hollow organ tissue repair.
All of the key features of the resulting bio-scaffold can be controlled to optimise the response of specific cells and direct subsequent Extracellular Matrix (ECM) formation. Importantly, the in situ treatment step changes the surface properties of the fibres that make up the scaffold. Both chemistry and topography can be altered without affecting the bulk properties of the electrospun matrix. The resulting scaffolds have been shown to have a higher propensity for cell adhesion, migration, attachment and proliferation compared to relevant controls.
One potential application for scaffolds is for the fabrication of the leaflets of an aortic heart valve intended for trans catheter implantation. It is envisaged that bioprosthetic heart valve components engineered with bio-scaffold technology will extend the clinical application of these devices e.g. appropriate manipulation of the surface properties of the electrospun fibres during device manufacture can enhance the haemocompatibility of the resulting bioprosthetic structure thereby minimising or eliminating the need for extensive anticoagulant therapy post implantation.