ELECTROSPUN COLLAGEN/SILK TISSUE ENGINEERING SCAFFOLDS: FIBER FABRICATION, POST-TREATMENT OPTIMIZATION, AND APPLICATION IN NEURAL DIFFERENTIATION OF STEM CELLS
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Biocompatible scaffolds mimicking the locally aligned fibrous structure of native extracellular matrix (ECM) are in high demand in tissue engineering. In this thesis research, unidirectionally aligned fibers were generated via a home-built electrospinning system. Collagen type I, as a major ECM component, was chosen in this study due to its support of cell proliferation and promotion of neuroectodermal commitment in stem cell differentiation. Synthetic dragline silk proteins, as biopolymers with remarkable tensile strength and superior elasticity, were also used as a model material. Good alignment, controllable fiber size and morphology, as well as a desirable deposition density of fibers were achieved via the optimization of solution and electrospinning parameters. The incorporation of silk proteins into collagen was found to significantly enhance mechanical properties and stability of electrospun fibers. Glutaraldehyde (GA) vapor post-treatment was demonstrated as a simple and effective way to tune the properties of collagen/silk fibers without changing their chemical composition. With 6-12 hours GA treatment, electrospun collagen/silk fibers were not only biocompatible, but could also effectively induce the polarization and neural commitment of stem cells, which were optimized on collagen rich fibers due to the unique combination of biochemical and biophysical cues imposed to cells. Taken together, electrospun collagen rich composite fibers are mechanically strong, stable and provide excellent cell adhesion. The unidirectionally aligned fibers can accelerate neural differentiation of stem cells, representing a promising therapy for neural tissue degenerative diseases and nerve injuries.