Scaffolds and robots? The exciting potential of regenerative medicine

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Catherine Mohr, director of medical research at Intuitive Surgical, recently spoke to Wired about her company’s technology: surgeon-controlled robots for operating rooms. The telemanipulators, as she calls them, are robotic surgical hands that assist surgeons in performing surgery, particularly helpful during very precise and complex procedures.

Dr. Mohr envisaged the technology going beyond traditional surgeries and developing synergystically with new advances in regenerative medicine, particularly new biomaterials and scaffolds. Whether this is means robots will be implanting collagen scaffolds into patients soon is another story, but it may be a reality that’s slightly less science fiction than it sounds.

Just like Dr. Terry Riss, senior product specialist, Cell Health at Promega Corp, explained in a recent webinar, Overview of 3D Cell Culture Model Systems & Validating Cell-based Assays for Use with 3D Cultures, there are still a lot of challenges that we are facing when developing functional biological scaffold systems, primarily stemming from the complex technical nature of the tissues created through 3D cultures, which are often either biologically incomplete or not sufficiently robust. Such considerations, when dealing with 3D scaffolds, often involve the material used (for example, alginate vs collagen) and how this will translate into functional, implantable systems.

Such considerations are familiar to scientists working on developing 3D scaffolds systems. A step closer to full biocompatibility and uniformity came a few weeks ago, when Feng Zhao of Michigan Technological University developed a fully natural, uniform and highly aligned 3D matrix made entirely of – and by – fibroblasts. The study was published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. The scientists made highly aligned nano­fibrous ECM scaffolds by directing human dermal fibroblasts to grow on synthetic nanogratings. In doing so, they obtained a uniform fibroblast cell sheet with highly aligned cells and ECM nanofibers. They further showed that these scaffolds are fully functional by successfully expanding human mesenchymal stem cells. You can download the study here.

So will robots be implanting 3D scaffolds into patients during transplant surgery? It’s unlikely we will be seeing this in the foreseeable future. However, what a decade ago was but a potential script of a science fiction film is slowly shifting to being a reality that, though distant, is not so impossible to imagine anymore.

There is no doubt that regenerative medicine is in an exciting place right now. If you’re curious about scaffolds, the extracellular matrix, or how any of this works, you can talk to us. Akron has been developing and researching a range of 3D scaffolds, including electrospun polymeric nanofibers, for a long time, and we are excited to be part of this rapidly growing field. Contact us to talk.

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