Research in Engineering and Aviation

Two pole air gap electrospinning: Fabrication of highly aligned, three dimensional scaffolds for nerve reconstruction

January 2011

Author(s): Jha, B.S., Colello, R.J., Bowman, J.R., Sell, S.A., Lee, K.D., Bigbee, J.W., Bowlin, G.L., Chow, W.N., Mathern, B.E. and D.G. Simpson

Journal:  Acta Biomaterialia, 7 (1), pp. 203-215, 2011. DOI: 10.1016/j.actbio.2010.08.004


We describe the structural and functional properties of three-dimensional (3D) nerve guides fabricated from poly-ε-caprolactone (PCL) using the air gap electrospinning process. This process makes it possible to deposit nano-to-micron diameter fibers into linear bundles that are aligned in parallel with the long axis of a cylindrical construct. By varying starting electrospinning conditions it is possible to modulate scaffold material properties and void space volume. The architecture of these constructs provides thousands of potential channels to direct axon growth. In cell culture functional assays, scaffolds composed of individual PCL fibers ranging from 400 to 1500 nm supported the penetration and growth of axons from rat dorsal root ganglion. To test the efficacy of our guide design we reconstructed 10 mm lesions in the rodent sciatic nerve with scaffolds that had fibers 1 μm in average diameter and void volumes >90%. Seven weeks post implantation, microscopic examination of the regenerating tissue revealed dense, parallel arrays of myelinated and non-myelinated axons. Functional blood vessels were scattered throughout the implant. We speculate that end organ targeting might be improved in nerve injuries if axons can be directed to regenerate along specific tissue planes by a guide composed of 3D fiber arrays.