3D Neural maturation and axon myelination

There are currently a host of biomaterials available that support growth of neural cells in 3D; however these materials are typically restricted to cell-instructive interactions. The problem of axon regeneration is far from being solved, but the evidence is growing that axons can extend over long distances in vitro and in vivo by using innovative combinations of tunable materials and physical architecture. While growth is a critical step in neural regeneration, a therapy is only obtained when these axon projections function correctly in signal transmission. For this to occur, the axon must be insulated by an oligodendrocyte-generated myelin sheath.

We are identifying conditions suitable for differentiation of NSCs and oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) into mature oligodendrocytes. We hope to co-culture these cells in tandem with neurons using materials that allow dynamic control of properties that may initially support axon elongation, but then subsequently promote their myelination by the neighboring oligodendrocytes. The engineering and analysis tools we now have available support the integration of multiple design parameters into a single tissue-like construct composed of appropriate materials and multiple cell types, more accurately recapitulating the interactions observable in live tissue.