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Electrospun nonwovens with oriented fibers can be generated for tendon and ligament reconstruction.

Sports accidents and demographic change are creating an increased demand for new ways to regenerate ligaments and tendons. A cooperation of Italian and German scientists are jointly researching new materials to meet this demand. The team has succeeded in generating electrospun nonwovens with highly oriented fibers, which represent a suitable basis for replacement materials for tendons and ligaments. The additional plasma treatment of the material made it possible to further improve cell colonization and the formation of tissue structures.

The area of ​​biomaterials

Scientists at the industrial research facility Innovent have been working in the field of biomaterials for over 10 years in the field of electrospinning for medical applications. The focus is on the areas of drug delivery systems, wound dressings and tissue replacement. A research focus is on the development of suitable materials for the treatment of tendon or ligament ruptures. Substantial progress has been made in this area in recent years.

By combining different processes and technologies such as polymer synthesis, electrospinning and plasma treatment, the competencies could be continuously expanded. Based on this, the material properties were continuously adapted to the mechanical, biochemical and biological requirements for artificial tissue structures of tendons and ligaments. In an interdisciplinary cooperation with the working group of Prof. Valentina Russo (University of Teramo, Italy) it was possible to find suitable materials on the basis of extensive application-relevant studies.

Electrospun nonwovens help with healing

Due to the growing number of sports accidents and demographic change, which due to increased tissue wear, also contributes to the increased number of tendon and ligament ruptures, there is a great need for suitable replacement materials. Healing torn ligaments and tendons is a painful, lengthy process, and can be extremely problematic. Often these tissues heal poorly or with scarring, which severely restricts mobility and resilience. For these reasons, innovative approaches are sought that improve the chances of recovery and reduce the scarring of the tissue. Artificial tissue structures based on electrospun nonwovens with directed microfibers are one way of achieving these goals and almost completely restoring functionality after the healing process.

With the help of the electrospinning process, nano and microfibers can be produced from a large number of polymers. In addition, with suitable process parameters, it is possible to manufacture materials with oriented fibers. Such directed fibers are particularly suitable as tendon replacement material. Starting from a biomaterial that can be broken down by the body, it has now been possible to generate matrices with highly oriented fibers that represent a suitable basis for replacement materials for tendons and ligaments.

The results of the investigations

The nonwoven materials generated at Innovent were examined in detail by the researchers. The general suitability of the materials emerged. Both the mechanical properties and the degradation of the material met the target requirements. Furthermore, the biocompatibility of the material could be demonstrated in extensive in vitro tests. In particular, it was shown how fiber diameter and the orientation of the fibers affect cell differentiation, cell proliferation and cell alignment as well as the formation of a suitable extracellular matrix. With an additional plasma treatment of a selected electrospun material, the cell colonization and the formation of tissue structures could be further improved. This material forms the basis for further investigations into the treatment of ligament or tendon ruptures and can be produced in dimensions of 10 x 35 cm2 (W x L) in different fleece thicknesses.