Scientists develop process for creating biocompatible fibers

January 19, 2006

Scientists at Virginia Tech have developed a single-step process for creating nonwoven fibrous mats from a small organic molecule – creating a new nanoscale material with potential applications where biocompatible materials are required, such as scaffolds for tissue growth and drug delivery.

The research will be presented in the Jan. 20 issue of Science, in the article, "Phospholipid Nonwoven Electrospun Membranes," by Matthew G. McKee, a recent Ph.D. graduate in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech now at P&G, current chemistry students John M. Layman and Matthew P. Cashion, and chemistry professor Timothy E. Long, all at Virginia Tech.

"Phospholipids, which are the main component of cell membranes in the human body or in an apple are exquisite in terms of their ability to self-organize," said Long.

The researchers fabricated this natural compound into a sub micron fiber – 100 times smaller than a human hair. "It is the first demonstration that electrostatic spinning, or electrospinning, a polymer processing technique, can be used with a small molecule to produce a fiber. "Clothing fibers such as polyesters and nylons are composed of large molecules, macromolecules," Long said. "Now, we are fabricating fibers from small molecules – ones with a low molecular weight."

Under the microscope, the resulting mat shows a porous nonwoven structure.

The researchers used a commercial product, lecithin, a natural mixture of phospholipids and neutral lipids. The materials will spontaneously organize into cylindrical or worm-like strands to form membranes.

McKee studied this self-assembly and conducted rheological experiments to fundamentally understand the association of small molecules, then he determined that once phospholipids form an entangled network they can be treated similarly to higher weight molecules and electrospun. The size of the mats is limited only by the amount of material, such as lecithin.

"This represents the synergy of electrospinning, the use of self-organizing molecules, and fundamental research to understand the behavior of such molecules," Long said. "Matt (McKee) did a terrific job of bringing fundamental learning to a potentially new family of fabrics and membranes."

Long said that the future opportunities are vast. "Our research group continues to fabricate molecules that self organize and can be electrospun. Potential applications include drug delivery, that is, a carrier and matrix to control the release of drugs."

Long's research group is working with Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Medicine researchers at Virginia Tech to develop a patch for drug delivery for horses. "We have not yet tested the specific biocompatibility (cytotoxicity) of our fibers, but we have not changed the chemical structure of the phospholipids."

Source: Virginia Tech

Explore further: New insight on how crystals form may advance materials, health, basic science research

Related Stories

Potential toxicity of cellulose nanocrystals examined

February 19, 2015

Novel nanomaterials derived from cellulose have many promising industrial applications, are biobased and biodegradable, and can be produced at relatively low cost. Their potential toxicity—whether ingested, inhaled, on ...

How do you make a greasy protein?

January 7, 2015

Every cell is encapsulated and protected by a thin membrane made of greasy molecules called lipids. Assemblies of equally greasy protein molecules span the membrane, forming passageways that control the flow of signaling ...

Recommended for you

New material science research may advance tech tools

August 31, 2015

Hard, complex materials with many components are used to fabricate some of today's most advanced technology tools. However, little is still known about how the properties of these materials change under specific temperatures, ...

An engineered surface unsticks sticky water droplets

August 31, 2015

The leaves of the lotus flower, and other natural surfaces that repel water and dirt, have been the model for many types of engineered liquid-repelling surfaces. As slippery as these surfaces are, however, tiny water droplets ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.