Spinal Cord Injury:
An ailment not to be treated?
Since ancient times, spinal cord injury (SCI) was considered untreatable. Although significant advances have been in terms of treatment and management of this condition, there is still no cure that is able to restore function following an injury. As a consequence, between 250,000 to 500,000 individuals across the globe live with SCI. At their core, the problems associated with SCI are due to the physical damage of the ascending and descending spinal tracts and the formation of a cyst in the spinal cord.
This acts as a physical barrier to regrowth, creating a gap that we aim to fill. To do so, we will use Synthetic Biology to work towards a novel treatment for SCI.
Bridging the Gap:
Using a biomaterial-based approach to find a cure.
We have designed and modelled a 3D-bioprinted polycaprolactone scaffold to provide mechanical support and axonal guidance in order successfully achieve regeneration at the site of the SCI. This acts like a bridge in the gap caused by the injury. While our scaffold macro- and micro-architectures promote axonal regrowth, we have also generated a degradation model. Our 3D bio-printed scaffold is tailored to each individual patient - this is achieved by segmenting SCI cyst’s to the accurate dimensions of the individual. Yet, this scaffold is limited by its adhesive properties, something that is necessary for cell growth.
Looking to Nature:
Seeking inspiration from mussels to develop a bioadhesive coating.
We recognised we could utilise a bioadhesive coating to increase the adhesive properties of the scaffold. To create this, we looked to mussels. Mussels spend most of their lives attached to surfaces in turbulent coastal conditions, which has lead to them developing a strategy for strong, underwater adhesion to surfaces through evolution. Mussel foot proteins have a unique ability to adhere to a large variety of surfaces in aqueous environments, which current adhesives used in the medical industry fail to do. Delving into these proteins further, we were inspired to use the mussel foot protein, Pvfp-5β, from Perna viridis as the protein making up our bio-adhesive to coat our scaffold. This decision was underpinned by the various advantages that accompany the use of Pvfp-5β - which include biocompatibility, non-cytotoxicity and strong mechanical properties.