An example of researchers working on the tools needed to guide cell growth:
The aim of the research was to find a biomaterial able to sustain the population of neural stem cells and to generate new differentiated cells in order to start the development of an implant that allows brain regeneration.
Despite recent advances in understanding the mechanisms of nerve injury, tissue-engineering solutions for repairing damage in the central nervous system (CNS) remain elusive, owing to the crucial and complex role played by the neural stem cell (NSC) niche. This zone, in which stem cells are retained after embryonic development for the production of new cells, exerts a tight control over many crucial tasks such as growth promotion and the recreation of essential biochemical and physical cues for neural cell differentiation.
The team tested types of polylactic acid (PLA) with different proportions of isomers L and D/L, a biodegradable material allowing neural cell adhesion and growth, as materials for nerve regeneration. They found that one type, PLA with a proportion of isomers of 70/30, maintained the important pools of neuronal and glial progenitor cells in vitro. PLA 70/30 was more amorphous, degraded faster and, crucially, released significant amounts of L-lactate, which is essential for the maintenance and differentiation of neural progenitor cells.
The results suggest that the introduction of 3D patterns mimicking the architecture of the embryonic NSC niches on PLA70/30-based scaffolds may be a good starting point for the design of brain-implantable devices. [These] will be able to induce or activate existing neural progenitor cells to self-renew and produce new neurons, boosting the CNS regenerative response in situ.