Nanothreads of Living Tissue Embark in New Direction

Author:  Corbaley Dean
Date:  October 2007

It's hard to believe that not so long ago, no one knew that cells could be spun finer than silk. However, earlier this month, scientists reported that they have found a new, safer way of spinning nanothreads of living tissue for use in medical procedures. With this technique, they can use the nanothreads to help construct living scaffolds for medical repairs, tissue regeneration, drug delivery system, and many other medical uses.

The research is spear-headed by Dr. Suwan Jayasinghe at University College London, who first succeeded in threading living brain cells in 2006. He used a technique similar to an ink jet printer to compact and thread the cells using electromagnetic fields. Now with the help of Sumathy Arumuganathar, Jayasinghe has been able to create a new method of spinning material. The device is comprised of three concentric needles that act together to push out continuous streams of micro-thin layer of polymer-encased living cells. Even after three weeks, no ill-effects to the cells were noted. The best part of the system, compared to Jayasinghe's old method, which employed electrical fields, is that you can create threads of varying varieties, including living and non-living materials. "You can directly thread very highly conducting composite materials to polymers that were previously unexplored," Jayasinghe says.

Although the electrospinning technique has worked fine for threading cells, there is a possibility that the technique could cause problems when used for other materials, especially those with metallic qualities that would interfere with the magnetic fields in the system.

The next step for the researchers is to determine the efficacy of threading stem cells, and the possible effects that such a procedure has on the cells being spun. If the actual delivery has any effects on the cells genes, it could possibly cause a cell to malfunction. "You wouldn't want to put cancerous cells back into anybody's body," Jayasinghe notes.

After the method is determined to be safe, it could be introduced into many medical procedures, adding new levels of precision to our efforts to repair damaged bodies. Using a scaffold of living cells that will eventually grow into the body, this technique could be much more effective than having a tiny metal scaffold implanted deep inside the body in aiding the process of healing.

Author: Dean Corbaley

Reviewed by: HoiSee Tsao, Shilpa Gowda

Published by: Konrad Sawicki