Pre-clinical evaluation of advanced nerve guide conduits using a novel 3D in vitro testing model

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Mehri Behbehani, Adam Glen, Caroline S. Taylor, Alexander Schuhmacher, Frederik Claeyssens, John W. Haycock


Autografts are the current gold standard for large peripheral nerve defects in clinics despite the frequently occurring side effects like donor site morbidity. Hollow nerve guidance conduits (NGC) are proposed alternatives to autografts, but fail to bridge gaps exceeding 3 cm in humans. Internal NGC guidance cues like microfibres are believed to enhance hollow NGCs by giving additional physical support for directed regeneration of Schwann cells and axons. In this study, we report a new 3D in vitro model that allows the evaluation of different intraluminal fibre scaffolds inside a complete NGC. The performance of electrospun polycaprolactone (PCL) microfibres inside 5 mm long polyethylene glycol (PEG) conduits was investigated in neuronal cell and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cultures in vitro. Z-stack confocal microscopy revealed the aligned orientation of neuronal cells along the fibres throughout the whole NGC length and depth. The number of living cells in the centre of the scaffold was not significantly different to the tissue culture plastic (TCP) control. For ex vivo analysis, DRGs were placed on top of fibre-filled NGCs to simulate the proximal nerve stump. In 21 days of culture, Schwann cells and axons infiltrated the conduits along the microfibres with 2.2 ± 0.37 mm and 2.1 ± 0.33 mm respectively. We conclude that this in vitro model can help define internal NGC scaffolds in the future by comparing different fibre materials, composites and dimensions in one setup prior to animal testing.

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