Electrospinning Produces Fibers for Medical Uses
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on November 12, 2019 |

Fusing a fabrication process developed in the early 1900s with modern technology is creating new solutions in health care. In recently published work, University of Cincinnati researchers, led by Professor Andrew Steckl, have been exploring the potential of coaxial electrospinning to create new fibers for uses such as medication delivery, cancer treatment and contraception.

The process, initially developed for the textile industry, combines multiple materials to create fine fibers. Two or more liquid polymers are pumped into a nozzle that gently drips while an electric charge is applied, turning the liquid into a cobweb-like structure.

Electrically charged liquid polymers turn into fine fibers as they are released from the nozzle during the electrospinning process. (Image courtesy of Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services.)
Electrically charged liquid polymers turn into fine fibers as they are released from the nozzle during the electrospinning process. (Image courtesy of Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services.)

“It looks deceptively simple, but the chemistry is the secret sauce,” Steckl said. “The beauty is you can have combinations of polymers with properties you don’t normally find in nature.”

Electrospinning offers the opportunity to combine different properties to create something entirely new with multiple benefits. The team has electrospun fibers that feature a stiff core and a soft or flexible outside. The right combination can create fibers with a water-resistant layer around a dissolvable layer, allowing better delivery of medicine.

The versatility of this method lends itself to an array of applications in the medical field. For instance, these unique fibers have the potential to innovate cancer therapies. In cases such as a brain tumor, the ability to apply the medicine directly to the affected area instead of to the entire body could greatly impact patient care.

Bio-friendly polymers spun into different fibers have the potential to offer new solutions in patient care and treatment. (Image courtesy of Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services.)
Bio-friendly polymers spun into different fibers have the potential to offer new solutions in patient care and treatment. (Image courtesy of Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services.)

“Chemotherapy essentially is whole-body treatment,” Steckl said. “The treatment has to get through the blood-brain barrier, which means the whole-body dose you get must be much higher. This can be dangerous and have toxic side effects.”

Steckl and his team are working with Drs. Henry Brem and Betty Tyler at Johns Hopkins University to create a treatment that involves placing an electrospun capsule at the location where a lesion is removed. Based on animal trials, the ability to deliver pin-pointed medicine could enhance a surgeon’s ability to control treatment and the duration of medicine.

Patients who take multiple medicines a day could greatly benefit from a slow-release medication. Electrospinning allows for bio-friendly materials to be used that could dissolve at certain stomach acid levels.

The team’s research has also led to the use of electrospun fibers for contraception and protection, which could be more effective than current contraceptive sponges. The ability to combine different materials provides protection on multiple levels.

In addition to their use with medicines, electrospun nanofibers could have other applications, including the creation of batteries and other protective materials.

“There are unlimited opportunities of collaborations in different disciplines, leading to excellent multidisciplinary research projects,” said Daewoo Han, lead author of the study. “I am very excited about collaborating with experts in other fields and institutes.”

Interested in other ways electrospinning is being used? Check out New Method Allows the Production of High Performance Nanofibers and New Smart Material Could Help Treat Wounds and Fight Cancer.


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