Three-dimensional alignment of schwann cells using hydrolysable microfiber scaffolds: strategies for peripheral nerve repair

Injuries to the peripheral nervous system affect 1 in 1,000 individuals each year. The implication of sustaining such an injury is considerable with loss of sensory and/or motor function. The economic implications too are extensive running into millions of pounds (or dollars) annually for provision and support. The natural regrowth of peripheral nerves is possible for small gap injuries (of approximately 1-2 mm). However, patients with larger gap injuries require surgical intervention. The "gold standard" for repairing gap injuries is autografting; however, there are problems associated with this approach, and so, the use of nerve guidance conduits (NGC) is a realistic alternative. We outline in this chapter the development of an NGC that incorporates aligned poly-L-lactide fibres for supporting the growth of organised Schwann cells within a three-dimensional scaffold in vitro. A closed loop bioreactor for growing cells within NGC scaffolds is described together with a method of plasma deposition for modifying the microfibre surface chemistry (which improves the ability of Schwann cells to attach) and confocal microscopy for measuring cell viability and alignment within 3D constructs.