Monday, 02 June 2014 14:00

Neural tissue engineering options for peripheral nerve regeneration

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Tissue engineered nerve grafts (TENGs) have emerged as a potential alternative to autologous nerve grafts, the gold standard for peripheral nerve repair. Typically, TENGs are composed of a biomaterial-based template that incorporates biochemical cues. A number of TENGs have been used experimentally to bridge long peripheral nerve gaps in various animal models, where the desired outcome is nerve tissue regeneration and functional recovery. So far, the translation of TENGs to the clinic for use in humans has met with a certain degree of success. In order to optimize the TENG design and further approach the matching of TENGs with autologous nerve grafts, many new cues, beyond the traditional ones, will have to be integrated into TENGs. Furthermore, there is a strong requirement for monitoring the real-time dynamic information related to the construction of TENGs. The aim of this opinion paper is to specifically and critically describe the latest advances in the field of neural tissue engineering for peripheral nerve regeneration. Here we delineate new attempts in the design of template (or scaffold) materials, especially in the context of biocompatibility, the choice and handling of support cells, and growth factor release systems. We further discuss the significance of RNAi for peripheral nerve regeneration, anticipate the potential application of RNAi reagents for TENGs, and speculate on the possible contributions of additional elements, including angiogenesis, electrical stimulation, molecular inflammatory mediators, bioactive peptides, antioxidant reagents, and cultured biological constructs, to TENGs. Finally, we consider that a diverse array of physicochemical and biological cues must be orchestrated within a TENG to create a self-consistent coordinated system with a close proximity to the regenerative microenvironment of the peripheral nervous system.

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