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PLASMATS Report Summary

Project ID: 335929
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Belgium

Mid-Term Report Summary - PLASMATS (Plasma-assisted development and functionalization of electrospun mats for tissue engineering purposes)

The project PLASMATS is investigating the applicability of non-thermal plasmas in the field of electrospinning in an effort to create advanced, functional biodegradable electrospun mats which can be used as tissue engineering scaffolds.

Within the first project months, we have been able to electrospin several natural as well as biodegradable polymers including PCL, PLA, chitosan and gelatin. By choosing the right solvent mixture as well as the appropriate electrospinning parameters, electrospun mats have been created consisting of nicely elongated fibers without the presence of beads.

A novel atmospheric pressure plasma jet source has also been developed during the project to enable a plasma treatment of polymer solutions prior to the electrospinning process. This plasma jet has been designed in such a way that an intense contact occurs between the active plasma species and the surrounding polymer solution. Several experiments on PCL polymer solutions have revealed that the plasma jet can significantly affect the polymer properties as conductivity, viscosity and pH of the solution strongly increases after plasma modification. In addition, it has also been found that due to the plasma pre-electrospinning treatment, beads in the nanofibrous mats can be eliminated. Investigations are currently ongoing to unravel the physical and chemical effects which can be responsible for the above mentioned observations.

The developed electrospun materials have also been subjected to a surface modification step after the electrospinning process making use of a dielectric barrier discharge in an effort to enhance the cellular interactions on the nanofibers. Several discharge gases such as argon, air, nitrogen and nitrogen/NH3 have been used and the effects of each of these plasma treatments on the physical and chemical characteristics of the nanofibrous mats have been examined. These experiments have enabled us to conclude that plasma treatments can significantly increase the hydrophilicity of the nanofibrous materials by the incorporation of functional oxygen and/or nitrogen groups. In addition, cell studies have also revealed that these plasma modifications are able to significantly increase the cell adhesion and proliferation on these nanofibers.

In an final work package, a lot of effort has been put into the deposition of an amino-rich coating making use of plasma polymerization. Within this context, cyclopropylamine has been chosen as starting monomer as it has rarely been studied and flat polymer samples have been used as substrates to enable a straightforward chemical and physical characterization of the obtained coatings. Several plasma operating parameters were found to have a significant influence on the amount of amino groups in the coatings as well as on their thickness and stability in water. The plasma operating parameters should thus be carefully selected in order to obtain stable, amino-rich coatings.

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