Researchers are demonstrating potential uses for self-assembling nanofibers in guiding the regeneration of damaged tissues. Biomolecules are injected into tissues, and nanofibers form spontenously from these compounds and remain for a few weeks before degrading once more. While they exist intact, they can lead to healing that would otherwise not have happened.
According to Capito, the cylinder-shaped nanofibers work by binding to a specific group of amino acids, the tiny molecules that form proteins. Nanofibers carry the amino acids to the injured area. The amino acids then bind to receptors on the cell surface, promoting the growth of nerve cells and inhibiting the growth of scar tissue.
Northwestern scientists tried the technique on mice with severed spines and found that five weeks after the injury, mice injected with nanofibers regained significantly more motion in their hind legs than a control group injected with glucose sugar.
Capito said when they tested the nanofibers on mice with Parkinson's symptoms, 83 percent of the ones injected with them recovered.
It is interesting that regeneration of two very different types of tissue damage are improved by nanofibers. The researchers are also investigating how nanofibers could be used to form scaffolds to support and encourage stem cells used in regenerative therapies - a self-assembling scaffold would be a jump ahead in efficiency over those which have to be carefully manufactured.
Losordo said he is collaborating with Capito's team to find ways nanofibers and stem cells can work together. For example, the low blood supply in the areas he wants to regenerate makes it hard for the stem cells to take effect. The job might be easier if nanofibers could shelter them.
"It’s a challenging environment for the cells to survive," Losordo said. "We thought, if we could provide the cells with some survival cues, or a matrix or a soil, if you will, that they’re happier in, maybe we’ll have better luck with retention, survival, proliferation, differentiation of those cells into the target organ."