Lasers craft neuron-delivery 'trucks' for Alzheimer's

Regenerative medicine holds promise for treating a variety of diseases, and now researchers are making progress in building the delivery "trucks" needed to drop off cells at specific damaged tissues. And a key asset in their journey has been lasers that can precisely craft three-dimensional polymer scaffolds that could host regenerated neurons and deposit them at sites to treat Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Polymer scaffolds for re-growing tissue are nothing new. Yet the lasers shine light on a host of capabilities in scaffold construction, enabling scientists to shape different components at a scale of a 1,000 times smaller than a millimeter. This opens up a range options to control the growth of cells on the scaffolds, which can also be designed to ensure that the cells attach to a target tissue and repair the damage. And the researchers, based at the University of Crete and the University of Sheffield, built the scaffolds with polylactic acid polymers that are intended to degrade in the body and leave the regenerated tissue in place.

Naturally, there's a lot of work to do before this approach leads to a treatment for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. So far, according to the researchers' release, they used the lasers to build scaffolds on which neurons were grown. They found that only 10% of the cells had perished on the scaffolds after 5 days. Still, the ability to finely tune the scaffolds could make them ideal for regenerative treatments to repair damaged tissue in the peripheral nerves, brain and spinal cord.

"This is the first time we have been able to structure polylactide with such high resolution and the first time that direct laser writing has been applied to tissue engineering," said Prof. Frederik Claeyssens of the University of Sheffield, a co-author of the researchers' study published this week in the journal Biofabrication. "Compared to other techniques, direct laser writing allows the scaffold to be created in a user-defined manner on the micrometer level and provides the possibility to explore the relationship between structure of, and cell growth on, the scaffold."

- here's the release