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Friday February 9, 2018 -- Biomaterials for Nerve Repair Therapies

SMBB 2650, 11:45 am

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Speaker: Christine E. Schmidt, Department Chair of the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering , University of Florida

Presentation Abstract:

Damage to spinal cord and peripheral nerve tissue can have a devastating impact on the quality of life for individuals suffering from nerve injuries. Our research is focused on analyzing and designing biomaterials that can interface with neurons and specifically stimulate and guide nerves to regenerate. These biomaterials might be required for facial and hand reconstruction or in trauma cases, and potentially could be used to aid the regeneration of damaged spinal cord.

Our research has focused on both top down and bottom up approaches to studying nerve regeneration and designing therapies ultimately for use in the clinic. In the top down approach, we have worked with modified nerve tissue to make it off-the-shelf accessible for nerve repair. To do this, our group has developed natural tissue scaffolds termed "acellular tissue grafts" created by chemical processing of normal intact nerve tissue. These grafts are created from natural biological tissue -- human cadaver nerves -- and are chemically processed so that they do not cause an immune response and are therefore not rejected in patients. These grafts have been optimized to maintain the natural intricate architecture of the nerve pathways, and thus, they are ideal for promoting the re-growth of damaged axons across lesions. These engineered, biological nerve grafts are currently used in the clinic for peripheral nerve injuries and are being explored in intact and injectable formulations for spinal cord regeneration.

In a parallel, bottom up approach, we have been developing biomaterials that have structure and chemical features that mimic nerve tissue. In particular, our research has focused on developing advanced hyaluronan-based scaffolds. Hyaluronic acid (HA; also known as hyaluronan) is a high molecular weight glycosaminoglycan found in all mammals and is a major component of the extracellular matrix in the nervous system. HA has been shown to play a significant role during embryonic development, extracellular matrix homeostasis, and, most importantly for our purposes, in wound healing and tissue regeneration. HA is a versatile biomaterial that has been used in a number of applications including tissue engineering scaffolds, clinical therapies, and drug delivery devices. Our group has devised novel techniques to process this material into forms that can be used in therapeutic applications. For example, we are using magnetic microparticles that can be aligned and then dissolved to leave micron-scale channels inside hydrogels. We have found that these materials facilitate neuron interactions and are thus highly promising for regenerating nerves in vivo.

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