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Nanofibers and Nanofilaments Offer Potential Solutions in Regenerative Medicine

According to Samuel I. Stupp, Ph.D., regenerative medicine can have a significant impact on healthcare cost and the quality of life.

The scientist informed that his research team has made major advancements in regenerative medicine by making objects that look like pasta. Regenerative medicine is a promising field, which is a combination of biology, chemistry and engineering and deals with organ and tissue regeneration of the human body to replace or mend damage caused by birth defects, aging, injury or illness.

Stupp added that in industrialized countries, aging population is increasing. In fact in the US, the baby boom generation, which refers to people born between 1946 and 1964, accounts for 75 million people who are in their mid-60s. Simultaneously, people are also living beyond their average lifespan. This longevity combined with better quality of life poses an economic burden because keeping people to remain active and functional for extended period of time will prove difficult in providing healthcare.

On the other hand, Stupp informed that regenerative medicine can enhance people's lives, regardless of age. For instance, a person can survive an accident, but could remain paralyzed due to spinal cord injury. Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of early death worldwide; weak cartilage causes osteoarthritis; diabetes people face innumerable complications, wherein blocked blood vessels raise risks of limb amputations and heart attacks. Advanced regenerative medical methods can promote cell growth and repair the damage caused by these diseases.

Stupp's team has designed a nanofilament, which looks like spaghetti. This nanofilament contains tiny bits of protein that stick together instantly. In fact, these nanofilaments are so tiny that about 50,000 can be accommodated in a single strand of human hair. Stupp fixed signaling substances to these fibers that imitate VEGF, a strong substance that can help in creating new blood vessels. In clinical trials, the signaling substances promoted the formation of new blood vessels in mice but caused damaged to the blood vessel.

When the actual VEGF was tested on humans, the results were negative. It was found that VEGF instantly breaks down in the body. On the other hand, the nanofilament scaffold remains in the body for a number of weeks, thus allowing the VEGF-mimic substance more time to grow blood vessels. Gradually, the nanofilaments disintegrate and fade away, leaving behind the new blood vessels.

In another research, the scientists created noodle gels, which are nanofibers that produce noodle-like gels when heated, cooled and squeezed from a pipette into salty water. These noodle gels measure over half an inch in length and can be seen with the naked eye. They show a promising application in regenerative medicine, which involves delivery of biological signals, proteins and stem cells to accurately target the injured parts of the brain, heart, spinal cord and other organs. Noodle gels can also guide cells to a particular location where repair is required. Someday, nanofibers and gels will improve the quality of life for people suffering from medical conditions or injuries.



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