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Biomaterials and Neural Tissue Engineering
The injured or diseased brain and spinal cord has limited capacity to recover because regrowth of axons is actively suppressed and functional consequences for the patient are severe. Regeneration of the adult CNS is prevented in part by scars, inhibiting molecules and lack of relevant stimulatory cues.
Artificial scaffolds in combination with cell replacement therapies are being investigated as a means of circumventing the processes that prevent regeneration.
The tissue engineering group led by Dr Forsythe engineer scaffolds which incorporate biophysical and biochemical cues to promote cell attachment and control the regulation of axonal extension. Thermoreversible polymer systems, or “smart” hydrogels, are particularly attractive scaffold material as they undergo solution-gelation transitions and can be delivered by minimally invasive injection.
Smart hydrogels under investigation also consist of a highly interconnected 3D porous network, which promote cell viability by permitting cell migration and increasing transport of nutrients, oxygen and metabolites.
Nanofibrous scaffolds constructed by electrospinning are also being produced for neural tissue engineering and are particularly exciting since they provide the nano-dimension necessary for intimate interactions between the neurone and its 3D environment.
The research group is investigating the interplay of electrospinning processes on scaffold architecture to obtain various microenvironments suitable for nerve regeneration. Biofunctionalisation of the nanofibres, using direct attachment of cell signaling molecules is also investigated to create artifical stem cell niches and to facilitate neurite extension. The research program is supported by the Australian Research Council and the Cooperative Research Centre for Polymers.
Functional polymer-based microenvironments for controlling stem cell function in biomanufacturing
This program funded through the CRC-Polymers involves the manufacture of smart surfaces that provide appropriate microenvironments for the expansion of haematopoietic and human embryonic stem cells. Structured polymer scaffolds with biochemical and physical cues are being synthesized to facilitate increased proliferation of these cells.