Three-dimensional directional nerve guide conduits fabricated by dopamine-functionalized conductive carbon nanofibre-based nanocomposite ink printing†
A potential issue in current nerve guides is that they do not transmit electrical nerve impulses between the distal and proximal end of an injured nerve, i.e. a synapse. Conductivity is a desirable property of an ideal nerve guide that is being considered for peripheral nerve regeneration. Most conductive polymers reported for the fabrication of tissue engineering scaffolds, such as polypyrrole and polyaniline, are non-biodegradable and possess weak mechanical properties, and thus cannot be fabricated into 3D structures. Herein, we have designed a new nanocomposite material composed of dopamine, carbon nanofibers (CNF) and polycaprolactone (PCL) for the fabrication of nerve conduits, which facilitates the growth and migration of neurons toward the targeted end of an injured nerve. This support and navigation of the scaffold leads to better sensory and motor function. The results showed that the mechanical properties of the printed PCL increased by 30% in comparison with the pure PCL film, which is comparable with human nerves. The in vitro cell study of human glioma cells showed that the printed lines provided support for neural cell attachment, migration and differentiation toward the targeted end. In contrast, in the absence of printed lines in the scaffold, the cells attach and grow in random directions, forming a flower shape (cell cluster) on the surface of PCL. Thus, the proposed scaffold is a promising candidate for nerve guide application based on its signal transmission and navigating neurons in a correct pathway towards the targeted end.