Liquid Crystal Researcher Secures Patents for Cutting-Edge Tissue Regeneration Models
Fundamentally, liquid crystals are all about chemistry … just like the human body. A trio of new patents secured by a Kent State University researcher shows how a novel application of this ever-evolving technology may soon yield answers to some of the world’s most pressing medical dilemmas.
Elda Hegmann, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Liquid Crystal Institute and Department of Biological Sciences in Kent State’s College of Arts and Sciences, recently secured three patents related to the liquid crystal elastomers she is using to facilitate tissue regeneration.
Dr. Hegmann’s lab has created a fully biocompatible and biodegradable liquid crystal elastomers that interacts with human tissue cells.
“When cells align, they respond better,” Dr. Hegmann said. “With these liquid crystal elastomers, we can get stem cells to differentiate to a particular cell line or get any other tissue cells to align and mature faster.”
Dr. Hegmann’s recent patents relate to this elastomer and also how the cells are grown.
In petri dishes, cells will usually form a monolayer, filling up the petri dish. Cells must then be transferred (split) onto more petri dishes, or they will form a second layer that will cut off the first layer from air and nutrients, and expose those cells to the waste products from the second layer, ultimately killing them. This requires scientists to constantly split the cells to maintain healthy cell cultures.
“When growing cells, you want to go to the most natural environment, which is 3-D, not 2-D,” Dr. Hegmann said. “We created a 3-D environment to eliminate the need for constant splitting. Think of it like a parking deck instead of a parking lot.”
Dr. Hegmann has approached this in two ways. The first is by dipping a metal template into a polymer mix that forms a porous foam around it. The metal is then removed, leaving the foam full of channels, like a sponge. The cells then grow either inside or on top of the channels.
The second method is similar, except that it replaces the metal frame with salt, which is easier to dissolve, expediting the process and allowing for custom-engineering to adjust the foam to accommodate larger or smaller cells.
Dr. Hegmann said her lab aims to provide a 3-D tissue model that can help researchers fully understand cell-to-cell interactions in a more appropriate environment, and to find, study and test new therapeutics.
Dr. Hegmann has been working with Kent State colleagues Jennifer McDonough, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences; Ernest Freeman, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the School of Biomedical Sciences; and Robert Clements, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences to apply the new elastomer to the growth of neural cells.
“When neuroblastomas are stimulated with retinoic acid, we can help them to differentiate and mature,” Dr. Hegmann said.
Dr. Hegmann said her lab can tailor the mechanical properties of the liquid crystal elastomers to match any kind of tissue.
“We are the very first applying it in this way,” she said. “Other research groups in the world are following us.”
Dr. Hegmann’s elastomer foams are the subject of an article recently featured in the journal Soft Matter.
Kent State University's Elda Hegman, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and the Glenn H. Brown Liquid Crystal Institute works with a student in her lab.