ARCHIVED - 3D scaffolds deliver tissue growth

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August 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

Researchers at NRC, working with Montréal physicians, have developed a versatile, three-dimensional (3D) scaffold that could help accelerate the development of tissue engineering in medicine. Made of a biodegradable polymer, the scaffold may some day be used both to advance gene therapy and to regenerate damaged cartilage tissue.

In partnership with Dr. Jacques Galipeau, a practicing physician at the Jewish General Hospital in Montréal and professor at McGill University, a team from the NRC Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI) in Boucherville, Quebec, has shown that their computer-designed 3D scaffold could significantly improve the success rate of gene therapy for treating blood diseases.

NRC uses this computer-driven bioplotter to fabricate 3D gene therapy scaffolds.
NRC uses this computer-driven bioplotter to fabricate 3D gene therapy scaffolds.

"The traditional approach to gene therapy is to genetically engineer 'stromal cells' (stem cells derived from bone marrow that can differentiate into various cell types) and inject them, embedded in a gel, directly into a patient," says Dr. Azizeh-Mitra Yousefi, an NRC research officer. "The challenge is that 95 percent of the injected cells die."

Instead of the gel approach, Dr. Galipeau and his colleagues are converting to the 3D scaffold as the delivery mechanism. In one experiment, the NRC team designed a scaffold featuring interconnected pores to permit the growth and migration of cells as well as the flow of nutrients, oxygen and waste products — thereby mimicking biological processes. The scaffold harboured stromal cells that had been genetically engineered to release EPO, a protein used for treating anemia. "These cells, seated on our scaffold, were then implanted in mice, where they functioned well," says Dr. Yousefi. "Instead of cell death, we saw cell proliferation."

In the meantime, the Jewish General Hospital crew is investigating whether the scaffold approach can be applied to the treatment of hemophilia, by promoting the growth of stromal cells that release factor IX, a blood clotting protein. They expect that human clinical trials on patients with blood diseases may be feasible in a few years.

In collaboration with an orthopaedic surgeon at the Sacré-Coeur Hospital Research Centre in Montréal, the NRC team has also participated in a study evaluating the potential of the scaffold approach for cartilage repair. "Cartilage doesn't have the capacity to repair itself, so we seed the scaffold — designed to mimic cartilage — with cartilage-producing chondrocyte cells," says Dr. Yousefi.

Once a scaffold is implanted inside a patient, the ingrown cartilage would gradually integrate with the patient's own cartilage. "The scaffold would degrade over time and be replaced by regenerated tissue," she explains.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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