Biopolymer scaffolds are coming of age

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In a seminal paper published in 2009, Place and colleagues described the then-current state of the art of the field of biopolymers used in tissue engineering. The paper is still a comprehensive go-to reference for anyone working in the field and looking to broaden their understanding of both the history and the challenges of this growing area. When the paper was published, there were over 170 companies investing in tissue engineering research and development. This number has since increased, as has the number of discoveries that have turned into commercial products. For instance, Osiris was in 2009 a young but promising company developing a mesenchymal stem cell-based therapy for acute myocardial infarction called Prochymal. Four months ago, Osiris announced the sale of their entire MSC business to Mesoblast, a big player in the tissue engineering field.

Such transitions are not uncommon in the tissue engineering (TE) field, but they highlight the growing impact that scaffold-based TE therapy is having on the development of biotechnology businesses.

A few entries ago, you may remember us writing about synthetic and biological scaffolds. Synthetic biodegradable polymers used in tissue engineering scaffold design include polyesters, polyanhydride, polyorthoester, polycarbonate and polycaprolactone. Among these, those that are most commonly used includes poly(lactic acid) (PLA), poly(glycolic acid) (PGA), poly(lactic acid-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA), and poly(ɛ-caprolactone) (PCL).

One of the biggest areas of change since Place et al.’s Nature Materials paper has been the development of new combinations of synthetic biopolymer scaffolds that are both simple to manufacture and amenable to being used by others, and the synergystic application of molecular biology and chemical methods to the engineering design of novel biomaterials. An example of this is a new technology described in the Journal of Biological Chemistry last year, wherein authors developed a new electrospun 3D matrix composed of PLGA and polymerized allylamine with heparan sulfate non-covalently integrated on the surface of the fibres. Heparan sulfate triggered the neural differentiation capacity of mouse embryonic stem cells which in turn supported neural activity across the scaffold surface. The technique is both simple, straightforward, scalable and is amenable to testing by others.

PLGA has also been used in conjunction with lipid nanoparticles to generate polymer-lipid hybrids which support the delivery of drugs. The paper, by Willem Mulder’s lab at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, then used these constructs to successfully deliver the drugs doxorubicin and sorafenib into tumor-bearing mice.

These are just some of the examples – and they only involve PLGA – of how technological advancements, and the synergy between engineering, chemistry and biology – is poised to usher in new, simple and application-driven scaffold-based solutions for the treatment of a widening range of diseases. As a result, we expect the business arena to restructur itself and adapt to these new developments in the lab.

Akron is part of that process. Our expertise in scaffold design enables us to be at the cutting edge of scaffold-based TE developments and readily adapt to market needs. Akron can accommodate small scale development and high throughput electrospinning. Please call us for more information.

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