Native, soft tissues are complex 3D micro-environments, and low invasive ways to regenerate such tissues is a goal of researchers. In nerve regeneration, implants and aligned fibers have previously been shown to promote directional nerve growth.
Injectable hydrogels for use in regenerative medicine exhibit limitations in terms of the complexity of the structural architecture, and therefore structural growth queues, that can provided to cells in the body once injected.
Moreover, 3D constructs that are implantable, which are made pre-implantation, can exhibit highly ordered nano, micro, and macroscopic structures. However, the need to invasively implant such constructs is a limitation of such methods. New research from Laura De Laporte and co-workers, looks to provide an alternate method that can be used non-invasively.
The alternate method they propose utilizes short fibers in the hydrogel precursor solution and employees a magnetic field to orientate the fibers in the desired direction. A tunable, injectable hydrogel is used, and allows the fiber components in the hydrogel percursor solution to be manipulated before complete hydrogel crosslinking.
The hydrogel construct is terms an Anisogel, with the hydrogel encapsulating the fibers. The fibers are cell adhesive, and can be orientated using a low magnetic field due to their magneto-responsiveness. Extended unidirectional growth was shown to occur in Anisogels, and neurons showed spontaneous electrical activity along the anisotropy axis of the material.
This simple and effective system provides a method that can be used in a minimally-invasive way to produce a soft tissue replacement that can promote directional cell growth.
Watch the video abstract of this research below, or read the video script here.