New nano-structured materials
It has been known for the last few years that man made synthetic
polymeric materials have the potential to grow and multiply human
cells. 'About 10 years ago, scientists discovered the important
influence that nano-structures had on the way a line of cells would
develop. It was the beginning of an entire new scientific field,
somewhere between medicine and nanotechnology,' says Professor
Johannes Heitz, Senior Research Associate at the University of Linz,
Austria and main coordinator of the ModPolEUV project.
In the case of human skin cells, re-implantation of the tissue can
be performed once a sufficient amount of skin is obtained, by
growing it on a polymeric material surface.
However, in many cases, imperfections in the material structure can
make the process relatively long and sometimes inefficient, with
cells developing erratically.
The team of Austrian, Czech and Polish scientists involved in the
research project managed to develop a new and simple way to create
nano-structured materials that would allow a better development of
The Polish partner in the team, the Military University of
Technology of Warsaw, has been in charge of the development of the
new laser-based technology called EUV (Extreme Ultra-Violet) that
was used for the creation of the nano-structured polymer surfaces. A
beam of EUV light formed with a unique mirror developed by the Czech
partner REFLEX S.R.O is directed on the surface allowing the
creation of new kinds of polymeric materials. This innovative
technique allows for a very high degree of precision, from 10 to 20
nanometres, whereas conventional techniques allowed only for a
maximal precision level of 100 nanometres. 'One of the newest
theories in the field of cell growing is that the smaller the
structure, the wider the possibilities to manipulate cells,' says
A wide range of human cells
The EUV technique, thanks to its particular level of precision, also
allows for the conservation of the material's structure, which was
not the case with other methods used to modify the polymer. 'A
regular structure is essential if the material is to be used for the
purpose of growing human cells,' says Dr Henryk Fiederowicz,
Professor at the Military University of Technology.
The story does not end there. Nano-structures built through the EUV
technique have the ability to influence the behaviour of organic
cells and different kind of cells can be grown better and faster
depending on the type of polymer surface used.
The variety of material used to grow human stem cells will
determinate the way cells will differentiate, meaning that they will
transform into another human cell type. In other words: 'Using one
type of polymer material or another will help you grow different
types of muscle, nerves, cells adapted to a human heart, bone or any
other part of the human body,' says Professor Heitz.
Thanks to their affinity to human tissue and cells, polymeric
materials could also be used for designing entire artificial
implants. Indeed, many types of implants are already being made out
of polymer materials, such as heart valves and bloods vessels. Using
the EUV technique would reduce the odds of implant rejection, as the
range of new materials created could be adapted to interact
perfectly with specific parts of a patient's body.
All partners agree on the fact that EUREKA has helped them to find
elsewhere in Europe the expertise and skills unavailable in their
own countries. The next step is to bring their innovation to the
The Military Institute of Technology has already handled several EUV
installations to laboratories in the USA, Germany, the Czech
Republic, France, Japan, China and South Korea. It is now preparing
for a full commercial phase, in partnership with the Polish company
PREVAC, a leader in the market of high-precision instruments.
Applications of this novel technique could go far beyond nano-medicine
and bio-technologies. An important potential market could be the one
of micro-electronics, with its ever-expanding need for
high-precision lithography; applications could be proposed to every
type of industry where nano-structures are used. For instance, in
micro-mechanics, integrated optics, wear reduction or the production
of nano-composite materials.
For researchers at Linz University, the cell-growing technology is
still in a testing phase and Professor Heitz prefers not to be
overwhelmed by enthusiasm, even though he concedes that results have
been 'very encouraging so far'. 'The interaction of cells with which
structure dimensions are below 100 nanometres is currently the topic
of a huge international effort,' he says. Despite the importance of
the innovation 'our contribution is very small when compared to the
many other laboratories working in this field at the moment'.