Researchers at the Science Foundation Ireland-funded AMBER Materials Science Center have developed a new graphene-infused collagen-based biomaterial which they say may in time be capable of regenerating heart, nerve, spinal cord, brain and other tissue that responds to an electrical stimulus. The material also has the added bonus of being able to fight infection.
The scientists said they found that by adding graphene, they could make the collagen electro-conductive. The resulting substance has regenerative potential that can carry electrical signals over patches of damaged tissue, restoring function once again to the impacted area.
The researchers say they were surprised that the new substance maintained its regenerative ability as usually electro-conductive materials kill cells and tissue in the body.
The discovery could in time provide hope to millions of people who have extensive damage to their heart, nerves or spinal cord, or who have burn injuries, and for whom the options for repairing the injured tissue are limited.
So far the material has reached the proof of principle stage in the lab using heart cells. In particular it has been shown to enhance cell growth and when electrical stimulation is applied it directs cardiac cells to respond and align in the direction of the electrical impulse. But the research team say it could be up to 10 years before it is fully developed and ready to use in clinical settings.
The research was carried out by AMBER scientists based at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Trinity College Dublin, who were assisted by colleagues at the Eberhard Karls University in Germany.