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Cotton Candy Used to Create Artificial Tissue

New York (Apr 27, 2010)

Girl with cotton candy

A technique for creating a prevascularized platform onto which engineered tissue can survive may offer new options for tissue reconstruction as well as offer an ex vivo testing platform for medication trials. The platform that researchers at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital created was based on a substance that is similar in diameter to the small arterioles and venules in the body – cotton candy.

Cotton candy fibers were used as building blocks for the creation of microchannels that can be infused with blood and serve as scaffolding onto which human cells may be placed. This immediate vascularization makes it easier to assimilate the new cells into the body for a variety of applications ranging from skin grafts to breast reconstruction. The application is limitless as it creates "a vascular architecture within which any type of stem or progenitor cell could be placed," explained lead researcher Jason Spector, M.D., an Assistant Attending Plastic Surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Plastic Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College.

"For decades, the lack of a suitable blood supply has been the major limitation of tissue engineering," Dr. Spector said. "Without a network of blood vessels, only small, thin swaths of engineered tissue have longevity in the body," he explained. Tissue that is any thicker than approximately 1 mm is too thick to survive on diffusion alone for the two to three days a graft needs to survive before it grows its own blood supply from the body. "We are trying to develop a prevascularized platform that we can then splice into the host's cardiovascular system so that it is immediately living," he said.

Dr. Jason SpectorJason Spector, M.D.

The cotton candy fibers were coated with a silicone-based polymer. When this structure was submerged into water, the cotton candy dissolved away, leaving "an intricate, fine, three-dimensionally enmeshed architecture of microchannels" that is similar to the body's tissue, Dr. Spector explained. In a study published in 2009, Dr. Spector and colleagues successfully showed that heparinized blood could be flowed through the microchannels.(1) Next, Dr. Spector is working to seed the lining of the microchannels with endothelial cells, which would prevent blood clotting.

Tissue Could be Used in Medication Trials

If the endothelial-lined microchannels are able to sustain tissue, Dr. Spector believes the structures could be used as ex vivo testing platforms. For example, cancer cells could be put into the structure and then used to examine the effects of chemotherapeutic drugs. In theory, any type of progenitor cell could be added to the structure for use in testing. This type of testing would reduce the need to use animals experimentally and would give a better sense of how in vivo cells react to a given medication than results found in a Petri dish.

Why Cotton Candy?

Dr. Spector said that in addition to the right fiber size, cotton candy was the perfect item for use in building these structures because it is inexpensive and easy to make. In fact, he had a carnival-type cotton candy machine installed in his laboratory for the research.

These preliminary results offer hope to the field of tissue engineering as well as many aspects of medical care. Dr. Spector is currently experimenting with other types of fibers and polymers. For example, he is testing the use of polylactic acid (a component of dissolvable sutures) coated with the biodegradable polymer alginate. Polylactic acid can be dissolved by immersion into a nonpolar solvent such as choloroform, leaving the algenate behind. Over time, the alginate will be replaced with framework proteins produced by fibroblasts and other cell types that will help the body engineer its own scaffolding.

Contributing faculty for this article:

Jason A. Spector, M.D., is an Assistant Attending Plastic Surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and an Assistant Professor of Plastic Surgery and Director of the Laboratory of Bioregenerative Medicine and Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Reference
1. Bellan LM, Singh SP, Henderson PW, Porri TJ, Craighead HG, Spector JA. Fabrication of an artificial 3-dimensional vascular network using sacrificial sugar structures. Soft Matter. 2009;5:1354-1357.

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