Ugaz's work, which was undertaken with colleague Arul Jayaraman and appears in the July online version of "Advanced Materials," is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The findings detail the construction of an elaborate network of fractal channels that mimic the naturally occurring vasculatures found in trees as well as in the human body. The controlled manufacturing of these networks, which are capable of supporting transport of fluid, is the first step in translating this work to a tissue engineering application where it potentially stands to make a significant impact, Ugaz says.
"I think we've learned how to make these 3-D channels, and we can make them in the kinds of materials that people would use for tissue-engineering applications, in biomaterials," says Ugaz. "We've also looked at characteristics of the network, and we've shown that there are similarities to natural-occurring vasculature."
Providing man-made replacement parts to people in need of organ transplants (and bypassing the need for suitable donors) has been a chief aim of tissue engineering, but so far the field's biggest successes have been the production of skin and cartilage. This is largely due to the fact that tissue engineers have yet to effectively produce a three-dimensional vasculature that can serve as a network of artificial arteries, veins and capillaries. This network of channels is needed to support larger structures such as kidneys, Jayaraman explains.
"Developing scaffolds for tissue engineering with built-in vasculature is a high priority area in tissue engineering as the ability to provide nutrients to all depths of growing tissue is extremely critical," says Jayaraman, assistant professor in the department. "Typically, as the tissue grows, the inner regions tend to be nutrient-limited, which affects the overall viability of the tissue-engineered product. The development of 3-D vascular networks in bio-compatible materials addresses this specific need in the tissue engineering community."
Without such a network in place, the tissue created by engineers is dependent upon diffusion for the transport of nutrients and waste products. Diffusion, however, is a slow process, taking about 17 minutes to traverse a span of 200 microns, or about twice the thickness of a human hair. Increase that distance to an inch, and it takes close to four months for diffusion to occur. That length of time won't support cell growth, Ugaz notes.
"That's just a fundamental limit of this diffusion mechanism – the timescale," Ugaz says. "If your aim is to manufacture artificial organs, you'll need a network that has the ability to supply all of the cells in a three-dimensional volume with nutrients while moving waste products out and keeping these processes going in a certain timescale.
"The way this is all accomplished [in nature] is with a type of branched network, similar to how a tree is naturally structured. There is a trunk, and distribution occurs throughout a large volume by branches of various lengths and thicknesses that emanate from that trunk. This allows transport to penetrate inside a large volume, until the distance between branches and stems is minimized. It's all really an issue of transport."
Framing the challenge in those terms, Ugaz began contemplating how such a complex architecture could be artificially mimicked. He was well aware of a phenomenon known as the Lichtenberg effect. Named after German physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the effect is responsible for the creation of a fractal pattern as a stored electrical charge is released. This branching pattern occurs on the surface or interior of insulating materials during an electric discharge.
The patterns are similar to the branching patterns seen in a lightning strike. They also can be seen on the skin of lightning-strike victims or on the ground at the point where a lightning strike occurred. A more common example of this effect can be seen in crystal blocks that are often sold as decorative pieces.
Observing these patterns, Ugaz saw the similarities to the artificial network he envisioned creating and wondered if liquid could be transported through these branching pathways, similar to the way nutrients are transported through a tree's vasculature.
He went to work, teaming with Texas A&M's National Center for Electron Beam Research to implant a high level of electric charge inside an acrylic block using electron beam irradiation. When a point of release for the charge was created, Ugaz was left with the expected fractal patterns.
In his laboratory, he and his research group continue to account for such variables as size, range of size, angles, average area ratios and diameters, as well as how all of this relates to the intensity and frequency of charge. Together with Jayaraman, Ugaz is working to translate these microchannels into a biomedical application.
Their work appears promising. So far, the team has found that these fractal pathways can indeed serve as an elaborate vasculature that is capable of sustaining transport in manner suited for tissue engineering purposes. What's more, by adjusting certain variables, Ugaz can reliably reproduce these architectures not only in acrylic blocks but in biodegradable porous materials that allow for cell cultures to be embedded in the area surrounding the vasculature. He's even begun widening the vascular channels to facilitate flow through them and interconnecting separate networks to form larger vasculatures.
And unlike other methods of creating artificial vasculatures, Ugaz's method enables large, complex, three-dimensional networks to be instantaneously constructed in a way that enables them to be mass-produced.
Ugaz emphasizes that his findings thus far are simply the first step in a lengthy process of applying his work to tissue engineering applications. There's still much work to be done, including developing a means of lining his microchannels with cells that would help preserve the network while directing the surrounding material to break down.
Contact: Victor Ugaz at (979) 458-1002 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Arul Jayaraman at (979) 845-3306 or via email: email@example.com or Ryan A. Garcia at (979) 845-9237 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world's leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $582 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. For more news about Texas A&M University, go to http://tamunews.tamu.edu.
Follow us on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aggielandnews
Researchers devise microreactor to study formation of methane hydrate
23.08.2017 | NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Meter-sized single-crystal graphene growth becomes possible
22.08.2017 | Science China Press
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
23.08.2017 | Life Sciences
23.08.2017 | Life Sciences
23.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy