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Tissues Made of Nanomaterials—Far from Science Fiction


In his postdoctoral research project, materials scientist Martin Järvekülg[1] is looking for methods of processing gelatine nanofilaments to translate superior properties seen in 1D nanomaterials into corresponding functionality in 3D microstructures (e.g., high specific surface area and reversible compressibility demonstrated in nanofilament sponges).

Järvekülg said that the aim is to use the material as a cell substrate in biomedicine[2]. “Basically, it means that the cells are moving around on that gelatine filament and doing their thing until the material gets as close as possible to the natural tissue,” he explained. He added that so far the main focus has been on skin and its regeneration.

Martin Järvekülg. Foto: www.etis.ee
Martin Järvekülg. Foto: www.etis.ee

The Organism is Smart

The main structural protein in skin and other soft tissues is collagen, and as gelatine is chemically very similar, it is the most reasonable material to use in trying to create similar filaments. Järvekülg said that getting 3D microstructures suitable for cells has been a great challenge in biomedicine. “Gas bubbles and salt crystals’ templates have been used but it has not worked perfectly yet, as cells are very smart and understand what is beneath them. They do not want anything too slick and rigid, they prefer something like ropes to climb,” he explained.

What is more, scientists already know that the organism is so smart that there is no point in trying to copy the microenvironment around skin cells with full precision. “We have to create an empty spot, enabling environment, where the organism can operate itself. Basically, we have to give it a chance but not dictate,” Järvekülg said. According to him, the cosmetic aspect is less important than the material’s right functions.

Martin Järvekülg started his project in March. He has experimented with different strategies for processing 3D structures and developed the crosslinking and stabilization of gelatine filaments to avoid their too rapid dissolving in water. “What we need is a good kit of different strategies and methods to create the filaments—a toolbox to create many tissues by combining different cells and biotechnical methods,” he explained and added that nanomaterial could also be used for healing bone and stem cell problems, for example.

Help for the Pharmaceutical Industry

The next step of the project is to start experimenting with the cells. Together with Viljar Jaks, senior research fellow in cell biology, and his team, they have already studied the cells’ response to different substrate materials[3] and also explored the filament structures in natural liver[4]. “We wanted to know how the structures of the liver interact with impairment,” Jaks explained.

Järvekülg and Jaks[5] said that they were trying to build materials that could be helpful in medicine. Jaks explained that they are working on a liver tissue equivalent to create an artificial structure. “Ideally, of course, we would like to see some of our materials transplanted here in Tartu University Hospital,” Järvekülg said, “but to be realistic, perhaps we will be able to create a test-tube liver that could be used by the pharmaceutical industry to test their drugs in the next twenty years.”

[1]Martin Järvekülg is a researcher at the University of Tartu, Institute of Physics, but he is doing his postdoctoral research in Riga Technical University.

[2]Martin Järvekülg is co-operating with different units of the University of Tartu: Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Technology and Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology.

[3]Reemann, P., Kangur, T., Pook, M., Paalo, M., Nurmis, L., Kink, I., Järvekülg, M. (2013) Fibroblast growth on micro- and nanopatterned surfaces prepared by a novel sol-gel phase separation method. Journal of materials science. Materials in medicine. 24(3):783-92. doi: 10.1007/s10856-012-4829-6

Siimon, K., Reemann, P., Põder, A., Pook, M., Kangur, T., Kingo, K., Järvekülg, M. (2014) Effect of glucose content on thermally cross-linked fibrous gelatin scaffolds for tissue engineering. Materials science & engineering. C, materials for biological applications. 42:538-45. doi: 10.1016/j.msec.2014.05.075.

[4] Klaas, M., Kangur, T., Viil, J., Mäemets-Allas, K., Minajeva, A., Vadi, K., …Jaks, V. (2016) The alterations in the extracellular matrix composition guide the repair of damaged liver tissue. Scientific Reports  6. doi:10.1038/srep27398

[5]Projects of Martin Järvekülg and Viljar Jaks are financed by Estonian Research Council.

This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

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