Heilshorn Biomaterials Group

Materials Science & Engineering Department
Stanford University

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Nicole Romano

email: nromano AT stanford DOT edu

Dept: Materials Science & Engineering

Acute spinal cord injuries are notoriously difficult to repair, both architecturally and functionally. Unlike injuries in the peripheral nervous system, those in the spinal cord often result in the emergence of a severely degenerative local environment, leading to further tissue damage in the months following the initial insult. Although much work has been done to identify the causes of this degenerative environment, there has been relatively little success in achieving regeneration after a spinal cord injury. 

We are investigating the idea that a pro-regenerative implant may be able to reverse the trend of post-injury tissue damage in the spinal cord. To this end, we have designed a family of elastin-based, recombinant protein materials for use as hydrogel scaffolds in tissue engineering applications. Each protein in the family confers specific scaffold properties; when mixed and matched, they form chemical hydrogels with defined cell-adhesivity, mechanical stiffness, and proteolytic susceptibility. Our goal is to identify the environmental parameters that promote growth and organization of tissues that are relevant to the spinal cord.

Currently, we are investigating the effect of these scaffold properties on the ability of human microvascular endothelial cells to form angiogenic sprouts within these elastin-based materials. Spinal cord injuries often involve the destruction of vasculature that would provide nutrients and waste transport to the injured area. By identifying the environmental parameters that promote vascular growth and sprouting, we may come one step closer to learning how to engineer a new vasculature that would support the regeneration of the injured spinal cord tissues.                                                                                                                                                                  

Materials Science & Engineering DepartmentStanford University

Updated 8/11