By Amanda Zheng
If you have ever touched a hot pot and screamed in pain, then you have used your neurons to recognize situations of danger. Instead of cursing the pain, you should thank your nervous system for preventing your body from causing further injury. The hot metal triggers nerves in the affected area which relays information to the brain. This is normally a well-oiled system except in cases of nerve damage, often caused by disease, traumatic wounds, and unavoidable old age. The current treatments are nerve autografts or allografts (in which nerve segments from another part of the body or a donor is used to repair the damaged area). However, in cases where nerve autografts or allografts are not possible, one innovative solution to guide nerve regeneration is a scaffold, or a manmade supporting structure, for tissue to grow on. Researchers are constantly searching for new materials and patterns to grow the most effective cells. In my project, I tested PC12 cells (a neuron cell derived from a rat) to find the optimal conditions to grow the longest and most effective neurites (the part of the cell that deals with signal transfers). I used solutions of the synthetic polymer polycaprolactone (PCL) in two different concentrations (8% and 15%) to test different diameters along with the aligned and random orientations of the fibers. My results supported that the 8% and aligned orientation produced the longest neurites, likely because of its similarities with the extracellular matrix (the natural structural support of cells).
If you would like to read more, click here for a full pdf of Amanda's formal research paper about her project!