Elizabeth Loboa, dean of Missouri University College of Engineering, experiments with biomaterials seeded with stem cells to grow and replace missing tissue lost through injury, illness or surgery. These “scaffolds” hold stem cells as they grow into tissue; scaffolds then degrade to leave the natural tissue in place. Scaffolds can be made using electrospinning, a common nonwoven fabric technique. The process isn’t cost-effective or scalable, because electrospinning produces weak fibers.
Loboa joined forces with Stephen A. Tuin, University of North Carolina, and Behnam Pourdeyhimi, North Carolina State University, to determine if other nonwoven production methods could improve the odds of workable tissue replacements. The team tried meltblowing, spunbonding and carding to create polylactic acid scaffolds, seeded them with human stem cells, and studied whether the stem cells remained healthy and differentiated into tissue types.
All three methods proved as viable (if not more so) than electrospinning and were more cost-effective. The research also showed that a small sample of electrospun material could cost between $2-5, whereas the cost would be $1-2, $.30-3 and $.10-3 for meltblown, spunbond and carded scaffolds.
The goal is to eventually bring nonwoven products to clinical practice by making them efficient and cost-effective.