December 1, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 21)

Nano-FM Is Bridging the Gap Between 2-D and 3-D Culture with Biodegradable Nanofibers

Newly formed Nano-FM is marketing a hydrogel matrix composed of networks of nanofibers that support the growth of cells in two and three dimensions. Materials scientists discovered the nanofiber technology about five years ago at the Biomade Technology Foundation, an independent research institute in Groningen, The Netherlands. After investigating applications in cosmetics, agriculture, and other areas, the researchers concluded that the matrix technology was optimal for adherent cell growth. “Cell culture and stem cell-related work were the best commercial applications,” says Edwin Schwander, CEO.

Nano-FM (short for fiber matrices) sells its hydrogel matrix under the brand name Articyt™, which coats products that support two-dimensional (2-D) and three-dimensional (3-D) cell growth. A unique feature of the Articyt coating is that it biodegrades in three to four weeks. The standard product is supplied as the Articyt coating on 24-well microtiter plates. Custom coatings are also available and different hydrogel matrices can be developed and finely tuned to meet the specifications of end users on a contract basis.

Articyt matrices are based on 1,3,5-cis cyclohexane tricarboxylic acid further functionalized with amino acid residues. The components readily self assemble into nanofibers through a combination of hydrophobic and hydrogen bonding interactions. Then the nanofibers entangle to form porous networks. Emanating from the core are variable arms that can be used to trigger specific interactions with cells or for disassembly.

The chemistry and biological properties of Nano-FM’s coatings are well defined and validated. Articyt matrices are available in a range of fiber thicknesses and fiber surface functionalities. They can be visualized with standard microscopic and imaging techniques, are compatible with standard fixation and staining methods, and contain no animal products. “We can modify the basic structure, surface, and fiber thickness to suit customer needs,” explains Schwander.

SEM image of a hydrogel dried onto a cell culture plate

2-D and 3-D Cell Growth

rticyt nanofiber cell culture matrices support the growth of a variety of cell types, including cardiomyocytes, chondrocytes, primary hepatocytes, HEK293 and CHO/K1 cells, and adipose-derived stem cells. Certain types of Articyt coatings excel at supporting 2-D cell growth, while on others, cells grow best in 3-D formation. At least 60 different gels and fiber types have been developed over the years.

Nano-FM is initially offering three fiber types as coatings on standard cell-culture plates that are proven to maximize 2-D or 3-D cell growth.

The 2-D and 3-D cell growth lends itself to using stem cells for toxicity testing. “We could easily tap into existing formats for toxicology screening and add our service,” says Schwander. Articyt coatings extend the functionality of undifferentiated cultures of stem cells by a few days, which could greatly improve such systems.

The growing interest in 3-D cell cultures to study cellular dynamics provides another market for Nano-FM’s products. The company is looking for collaborators to advance the nanofibers as 3-D tools. “The challenge is to bring user-friendly, disposable, ready-to-use 3-D cell culture systems to market. We hope to make first generation products available within a year,” says Schwander.

Gel Formulation

Researchers at Nano-FM are developing additional products based on nanofibers. One will be a type of immobilization kit for vesicles. The nanofibers will be provided as a gel in a tube, rather than as a coating on solid surfaces. The gel will allow researchers who make liposome vesicles to immobilize and manipulate them. Nano-FM plans to make this gel formulation available soon.

Nano-FM is also working on medical applications for its nanofiber matrices. The ability of the nanofibers to dissolve in three to four weeks makes them desirable as medical products. For example, the gel formulation could deliver cardiomyocytes to repair cell and tissue damage after a heart attack or stroke. The gel will function as a capture glue to hold cells in place while they form 3-D tissue. At the same time, the glue eventually breaks down into small particles that are excreted by the kidneys.

“This is a nice clinical aspect of our nanofibers,” says Schwander. Competing products on the market provide fiber networks, “but they stay fibers forever and do not biodegrade.” Nano-FM is seeking collaborators who are interested in investigating medically related applications.

Another advantage of the nanofiber technology is that it is relatively easy to industrialize. “Our product holds up to gamma irradiation and many others don’t,” says Schwander. This means that large amounts of the nanofiber materials can undergo end-stage sterilization cost effectively.

Additional products under development at Nano-FM include an immobilization kit for vesicles, in which the nanofibers will be provided as a gel in a tube.

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