The intersection of graphene with stem cell biology may one day lead to new treatments for osteoarthritis, say researchers at Boise State University. Impacting millions of people across the globe, osteoarthritis is the most prevalent form of arthritis. It is the 11th leading cause of disability, affecting 50 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 65. While some treatments can provide symptomatic relief, a cure for the disease has eluded scientists. Total joint replacement is a common solution. But a new study from Boise State aims to prove that graphene could provide better treatment options.
A team led by Katie Yocham and Dave Estrada has published a new study titled “Mechanical Properties of Graphene Foam and Graphene Foam – Tissue Composites.” Featured on the cover of the Advanced Engineering Materials journal, the study is the first to investigate the compressive mechanical properties of graphene foam – soft tissue composites. Previous studies have shown graphene foam’s compatibility with chondrogenic cell lines for cartilage tissue engineering. This is the first study to focus on the viscoelastic behavior of the engineered tissue to test the functionality of the grown cartilage.
“2D graphene has one of the highest elastic moduli of any other material, and graphene foam demonstrates interesting damping capabilities. These qualities, among others, are extremely important as we explore tissue engineering because articular cartilage found in joints must dissipate high impact forces.” said Yocham, lead author on the paper and doctoral student in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering.
“Katie’s strong efforts on this project have provided the biomedical community with a rigorous characterization of the bulk mechanical behavior of cellularized graphene foam. This baseline knowledge is an important step in the rising use of graphene foam for biomedical applications,” said Trevor Lujan, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at Boise State University and an author of the study.
“The nexus of biology and graphene is leading to innovation in wearable biosensors, implantable electronics that interface with the brain, and tissue engineering,” said Estrada, assistant professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering and corresponding author of the study.
“In tissue engineering, graphene represents a unique material with structure property processing correlations that can be used to design bioscaffolds to communicate electrically and mechanically with adhered stem cells, driving their differentiation down various pathways.”
The use of graphene can also drive adhered stem cells’ extracellular matrix production, which consists of biomolecules secreted by cells within the connective tissues and organs of the body. The interactions of cells with the extracellular matrix is the focus of a National Institutes of Health Center of Biomedical Research Excellence which supported this research by establishing an Institutional Development Award Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Matrix Biology at Boise State University.
“Understanding how graphene scaffolds can be used to support cell differentiation and direct generation of specific engineered tissues includes the synthesis of tissue-specific extracellular matrices. The NIH Center for Matrix Biology at Boise State is focused on understanding factors that promote the formation of an authentic extracellular matrix in both composition and molecular organization,” said Professor of Biology and Center Directo Julie Oxford.
Estrada’s team previously demonstrated the growth of muscle tissue on graphene foam.
The biomedical use of graphene has other potentially wide-sweeping benefits, said Estrada, including health risks and injuries faced by military personnel. A majority of injuries sustained in combat impact the musculoskeletal system.
“Our team is working to exploit the full spectrum of graphene’s properties for defense applications including tissue engineering and regeneration,” Estrada said. “Our vision is to develop novel bioscaffolds that can expedite healing, reduce the need for amputation, and help save lives.”
Estrada is the co-director of Boise State University’s Advanced Nanomaterials and Manufacturing Laboratory along with Dr. Harish Subbaraman, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. Researchers in the lab are also developing sensors tailored for use in harsh environments such as the nuclear industry, and space exploration in addition to combat.