Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Biomedical Engineering

First Advisor

Gary Bowlin


Tissue Engineering is a scientific discipline that aims to regenerate tissues and organs that are diseased, lost or congenitally absent. It encompasses the use of suitable synthetic equivalents of native extracellular matrix that may or may not be supplemented with cells or relevant growth factors. Such scaffolds are designed to reside at the site of implantation for a variable period of time during which they induce the regeneration of native tissue. During this time, they also provide a template for new cells to attach, infiltrate, differentiate into appropriate phenotype and eventually restore function of the concerned tissue. Among the factors that affect the outcome are the composition of scaffold, methods of fabrication, bulk properties of the scaffold and topography and architecture at the cellular level. Bone is unique in the body in that it is one of the few tissues capable of complete regeneration even in adults, as seen during fracture healing. However, certain conditions (non-union of fractures, congenital and acquired bone deficiencies) exist in which the regenerative capacities of bone are exceeded and appropriate intervention becomes necessary. Current treatment options include autologous bone grafts harvested from iliac crest or de-cellularized allografts or synthetic substitutes made from metals, ceramics and polymers. However these options have serious limitations: while autografts are limited in supply, necessitate second surgery and show inadequate vascularization, allografts can transmit viral infections. Metals, ceramics and polymers are in essence structural replacements without performing any biological function. Other problems associated with these synthetic materials include adverse immune reactions, corrosion, stress-shielding and secondary fractures due to inadequate osseo-integration. Bone tissue engineering is a specialized field of research that provides an alternative strategy to repair bone defects by exploiting the advances in engineering and better understanding of bone biology. Scaffold-based tissue engineering approach is a promising field that involves implantation of a biomaterial that is specifically matched in terms of biological and material properties to the tissue it replaces. This study explores the feasibility of using electrospinning as a potential fabrication strategy for bone tissue engineering applications, more specifically intended for cleft palate repair. This model represents a congenital deformity that affects both hard and soft tissues and presents unique challenges and opportunities. Among the challenges are: the need for the implant allow growth of the most complex areas of the facial skeleton, integrate and grow with the patient through adolescence, the ability of the implant to not interfere with vital functions including breathing and feeding. Further the implant should provide a flexible matrix that can effectively support erupting teeth. In spite of these extreme demands, maxilla is a non load-bearing membranous bone, a favorable consideration from materials engineering perspective. The present study is organized into three independent sections. The first section investigates developing strategies intended to improve the material properties of electrospun bone scaffold. Bone is composed of a high volume fraction (50%) of inorganic hydroxyapatite nanocrystals that is closely associated with collagen. The dispersal of brittle mineral is critical in not only strengthening the bone in compression but also contributes to the osteoconductivity of the matrix. Since loading of mineral in a bone scaffold is a serious limitation, we attempted to achieve improved loading of bone mineral by dual mineralization approach. We first incorporated nanocrystalline hydroxyapatite (nHA) directly into the scaffold by adding it to the electrospinning polymer solution. The second step involves inducing biomimetic mineralization of electrospun scaffolds by incubating them in simulated body fluid (SBF) for 2 weeks. The hypothesis was that the nanocrystalline hydroxyapatite seeded during electrospinning would act as sites for nucleation and further crystal growth when incubated in solution supersaturated with respect to calcium and phosphate ions. We tested this approach in two synthetic, biocompatible polymers-polydioxanone and poly (lactide: glycolide) and four formulations of SBF with differential loading of nHA (0-50% by wt. of polymer). A modified Alizarin Red S (ARS) staining that specifically binds to calcium was developed that allowed us to quantify the mineral content of 3D scaffold with great accuracy. Results indicated a unique combination of factors: PDO scaffolds containing 50% nHA incubated in 1x revised-SBF incubated under static conditions gave maximum mineralization over a period of two weeks. We then sought to exploit these findings to engineer a stiffer scaffold by stacking multiple layers together and cold welding them under high pressure. Electrospun scaffolds (1, 2 or 4 layered stacks) were either compressed before or after mineralizing treatment with SBF. After two weeks, scaffolds were analyzed for total mineral content and stiffness by uniaxial tensile testing. Results indicated while compression of multiple layers significantly increases the stiffness of scaffolds, it also had lower levels of mineralization partly due to increased density of fibers and loss of surface area due to fiber welding. However this can be offset to a reasonable degree by increasing the number of stacks and hence this strategy can be successfully adopted to improve the mechanical properties of electrospun scaffolds. The second section introduces a novel infrared imaging technique to quantify and characterize the biological activity of biomaterials, based on cell adhesion. Cells attach to the surface by the formation of focal contacts where multiple proteins including vinculin and talin assemble to signal critical processes like cell survival, migration, proliferation and differentiation. After allowing MG-63 osteoblasts to adhere to 2D biomaterial surface coated with extracellular matrix proteins (collagen, gelatin, fibronectin) cells were fixed and probed with antibodies for vinculin and talin. Secondary antibodies, tagged with infrared-sensitive fluorescent dyes, were used to quantify the molecules of interest. In addition, the kinetics of focal contact formation in these different substrates was followed. Successful quantification of focal contacts were made and further research revealed phosphorylation of vinculin at pY-822 as one potential mechanism for recruitment of vinculin to focal contacts. Hence it could represent a subset of vinculin and might serve as a specific molecular marker for focal contacts. As an extension, we evaluated the possibility of using such an assay to quantify 3D electrospun tissue engineering scaffolds. We fabricated scaffolds of graded biological activity by electrospinning blends of polydioxanone and collagen in different ratios. Vinculin and talin expressed by MG-63 cultured on these scaffolds for 24 hours were quantified in a similar manner. Results indicate that while talin does not show a significant difference in expression among different scaffolds, vinculin showed a positive correlation with increasing biological activity of scaffolds. In conclusion, we have identified vinculin as a reliable marker of focal contacts in 3D scaffolds while phosphovinculin (pY-822) was more specific to focal contacts in coated 2D substrates. In both instances, infrared imaging proved to be reliable in study of focal contacts. The third section aims to make the bone scaffolds osteoinductive- a property of a material to induce new bone formation even when implanted in subcutaneous and intramuscular heterotopic sites. Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP) are potent cytokines that can induce migration, proliferation and differentiation of stem cells along osteoblastic lineage. The therapeutic efficacy of BMPs in the treatment of severe bone defects has been identified and is currently FDA approved for specific orthopedic applications. BMPs are clinically administered in a buffer form that not only makes the treatment expensive but less effective. Suitable delivery systems for BMP delivery have been an intense area of investigation. We rationalized electrospinning as a strategy to incorporate BMP within the scaffold and that would enable controlled release when implanted. One of the drawbacks of using electrospinning to deliver bioactive molecules is the potential denaturing effect and eventual loss of activity of BMPs. The final section of this dissertation tries to develop sensitive and relevant assays that could answer intriguing questions about solvent-protein interaction. We chose to use the BMP-2/7 heterodimer as the osteoinductive molecule of choice because of its superior potency compared to homodimer counterparts. We characterized the detection and quantification of BMP-2/7 using a slot blot technique. Further, we used a novel cell line (C2C12 BRA) to test the retention of activity of BMP-2/7 that has been exposed to organic solvents. Results indicate significant loss of activity when BMPs are exposed to organic solvents but complete recovery was possible by diluting the solvent with an aqueous buffer.


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Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

December 2009