03-May-2019 - Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung

Wound healing with the power of nanofibers

The healing of injuries, especially of severed nerve tracts, nowadays requires complex methods, such as sewing the two nerve stumps together. Scientists from the department of Prof. Tanja Weil (Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research), led by Dr. Christopher Synatschke, have now developed a new type of biomaterial in cooperation with researchers led by Prof. Bernd Knöll from the Institute of Physiological Chemistry at the University of Ulm.

In the case of injuries of the so-called peripheral nervous system, which are often caused by accidents, the prognosis of healing depends very much on whether the nerve tracts are still partially connected or how large the gap between two nerve endings is. For gaps in the range from millimeters to centimeters, surgery is nowadays the standard treatment method that promises at least partial regeneration. In this case, the separated nerve ends are sutured together again. The aim is to bring the nerve ends close together so that the remaining small gap is closed by the formation of cells by the body.

Scientists led by Christopher Synatschke, Tanja Weil and Bernd Knöll are working together on the development of fluids that contain nanofibers. These are molecular strands dissolved in water with a thickness of several billionth of a meter. These serve as a scaffold or adhesive base for cells and are non-toxic to the human body. Such a fiber consists of so-called peptides - short chains of amino acids that can also be found in human proteins. These chains can form a two-dimensional grid or three-dimensional network to which cells such as nerve cells or muscle cells can adhere.

The fluid developed by Synatschke and his colleagues can be injected into wounds. It remains there for many weeks before it is degraded by the body's own processes.

The challenge in the production of a peptide-based bio-network is to identify those possible combinations of molecules - so-called sequences - that combine good biocompatibility with optimal cell adhesion. For this, the scientists first produced a series of nanofibers with systematic changes in their peptide sequence and tested them in cell cultures. Using detailed molecular analyses and a computer-assisted algorithm, recurring features in the molecular structure could be identified that are expected to be highly suitable for the regeneration of nerve cells. The peptide sequences identified in this way were then examined in detail in a series of cell tests for their ability to support neuronal growth.

"Our bionetwork can be imagined as a rank grid for tomato plants," said Synatschke. "Without grids, the plants cannot grow upwards. Transferred to tomato plants, we have selected a grid to which the plant can adhere well. On a miniaturized scale, our material helps the nerve cells to bridge the gap between two nerve endings."

In order to realistically test the function of the best material, a facial nerve that controls the muscle responsible for the whiskers of mice was cut in a minimal surgical intervention in cooperation with the University of Ulm. The researchers used video recordings to observe the mice over a period of several weeks. They found that mice which had been injected with the biomaterial at the artificially created space between the nerve endings recovered faster and more comprehensively than untreated mice.

After further in-depth medical studies, the researchers hope to develop an alternative method to treat human nerve damage by supporting the healing by a bionetwork scaffold in the wound.

The scientists assume that the body's own growth-promoting proteins remain longer in the wound due to the presence of the peptide chains. In the future, it would therefore be conceivable to functionalize the chains in such a way that, in addition to the scaffold structure, cell growth-promoting molecules are introduced into the biomaterial in order to further increase the healing potential.

Facts, background information, dossiers

  • biomaterials
  • nanofibers
  • nerve cells
  • wound healing

More about MPI für Polymerforschung

  • News

    Combination Therapy against Cancer

    In their quest to destroy cancer cells, researchers are turning to combinational therapies more and more. Scientists from Germany and China have now combined a chemotherapeutic and photodynamic approach. All agents are encapsulated in nanocapsules with a protein shell to be delivered to the ... more

    When ions rattle their cage

    Electrolytes play a key role in many areas: They are crucial for the storage of energy in our body as well as in batteries. In order to release energy, ions - charged atoms - must move in a liquid such as water. Until now the precise mechanism by which they move through the atoms and molecu ... more

    "Make two out of one" - Division of Artificial Cells

    The success of life on earth is based on the amazing ability of living cells to divide themselves into two daughter cells. During such a division process, the outer cell membrane has to undergo a series of morphological transformations that ultimately lead to membrane fission. Scientists at ... more

More about Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

  • News

    First programmable photocatalyst developed

    Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces have developed a sustainable and "smart photocatalyst". The special feature: as a so-called smart material, it can distinguish between the colors of light (blue, red and green) and, in response, enables a specific chemical r ... more

    Molecular mechanisms of corona drug candidate Molnupiravir unraveled

    The United States recently secured 1.7 million doses of a compound that could help to treat Covid-19 patients. In preliminary studies, Molnupiravir reduced the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen an ... more

    Cellular filaments keeping the pace

    A new model describes the coordination of beating cilia allowing to predict their functional behavior. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (MPIDS) analyzed the formation of metachronal waves in arrays of cilia and how external cues might influence th ... more

q&more – the networking platform for quality excellence in lab and process

The q&more concept is to increase the visibility of recent research and innovative solutions, and support the exchange of knowledge. In the broad spectrum of subjects covered, the focus is on achieving maximum quality in highly innovative sectors. As a modern knowledge platform, q&more offers market participants one-of-a-kind networking opportunities. Cutting-edge research is presented by authors of international repute. Attractively presented in a high-quality context, and published in German and English, the original articles introduce new concepts and highlight unconventional solution strategies.

> more about q&more

q&more is supported by: