Polymer-coated nylon may offer the perfect scaffold material for the regeneration of bone tissue, according to a recent paper in Materials Letters.

Did you know that there are more people in the world aged 60 and over than there are children below the age of 5? This steadily aging global population brings with it a range of new challenges for the health sector, especially to those working in orthopaedics. In short, there is a growing need to find new ways to reconstruct and repair bones, ideally by initiating the natural tissue regeneration process.

During the last decade a range of natural and synthetic fibers and polymers have been investigated for potential use as scaffolding in bone tissue regeneration (BTR). While materials of natural origin have the benefit of degrading at the same rate as the cells grow, they are very expensive and can be rejected by the body, causing a failure of the implant. In contrast, synthetic polymers like nylon 6 (N6) are low cost and are chemically similar to collagen, making them stable in human body fluids. A collaboration led by Prof Abdelrazek Khalil from Egypt’s Aswan University, utilized these properties to develop low-cost, degradable nanofiber scaffolds for BTR applications.

In the paper [DOI: 10.1016/j.matlet.2015.02.005], mats of electrospun N6 nanofibers (average diameter ~116 nm) were produced and then immersed in a solution of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). The role of the PVA coating was to transform the normally hydrophobic N6 fibers into a hydrophilic material – an important property to enabling cell adhesion and growth. The coating not only increased the fiber diameter, but would allow cell-impregnated fluid to spread easily across the surface of the mat. The hydrothermal process used for this step was found to be highly-repeatable. Khalil and his team then attached pre-osteoblast (early-stage bone) cells to both the pristine mat of N6 fibers and to those coated with a thin layer of PVA. They found that the PVA-coating made a huge difference - promoting much higher degrees of cell crowding and a more even distribution of highly-uniform cells.

The researchers believe that the formation of hybrid PVA-N6 fibers warrant further preclinical investigation, for the development of durable, high-performance bone tissue scaffolds. N6 is already widely used in surgical sutures, but Khalil believes that it could find application in the treatment of bone disease and bone damage.

Materials Letters 147 (2015) 25–28,” Fabrication of durable high performance hybrid nanofiber scaffolds for bone tissue regeneration using a novel, simple in situ deposition approach of polyvinyl alcohol on electrospun nylon 6 nanofibers” DOI: 10.1016/j.matlet.2015.02.005