What is the possibility that spun sugar strands can be used for medical purposes?

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

In an effort to create artificial tissues, scientists are using cotton candy machines to build scaffolds for growing cells. The gels that they are currently using are not as porous as they would like. Because of this, they cannot populate them completely. A team of research scientists at Vanderbilt University used a cotton candy machine to spin a cloud of polymers. They embedded them in a type of gel that caused them to dissolve completely, resulting in a complex network of vessels. 85% of the cells that were left in this structure were alive a week later. When you compare this to the gels that were being used previously, in which only 60-70% of the cells remained alive after a week, you can see that spun sugar strands can be used effectively for scientific purposes.

Elsewhere, researchers have developed techniques to use the filaments of spun-sugar to create a scaffold of small synthetic tubes that can serve as conduits to regenerate nerves that are severed or blood vessels that are damaged. These sugar filaments are then coated with a corn base degradable polymer. The sugar is then dissolved in water and bundles of polymer tubes similar to those found in nerves are left behind. The scaffold made can be used in nerve regeneration. The scaffold can act as a bridge placed in between a severed nerve. Researchers are concentrating on the peripheral nerves found in limbs and throughout the body; however, not the spinal cord because nerve regeneration is much more complex in the spinal cord. This method can be useful for repairing blood vessels. This method is an alternative to surgical treatment. It uses a nerve “autograft” taken from the leg or another part of the body to repair injured nerves. Researchers are trying to develop artificial scaffolds to replace the “autografts” because removing the donor’s nerve causes a lack of sensation in the part of the body where it was removed. Spun-sugar strands come in here to help solve this problem.

Researchers from Cornell University took a step further in the search for a less detrimental nerve regeneration process. They focused on using the spun-sugar technique to create vascular networks for providing blood and nutrients to tissues and grafts. They said, “The synthetic scaffold resembles the unique structural assembly of natural nerves, which are made of thousands of small tubes bundled together. These tubes act as sheaths that house the conducting elements of the nerve cell.” To make these tubes, they must spin sugar fibers from melted sucrose. The sugar filaments are then coated with lactic acid. After the filaments are dissolved, a hollow tube remains, and nerve insulating cells are grown on these tubes. The cells then need to be aligned lengthwise along the tube. This alignment is very important because nerve cells grow not only inside tubes but around the outside as well.

A provisional patent on the medical tool has been filed. It allows for a simple and effective way to create scaffolds and does not require any elaborate laboratory equipment. The same kind of sugar found in candy and cheap polymers can be used to make these scaffolds at relatively low prices.

-Sanaa Dalvi

Author at StemTalksNC


Spun-Sugar Fibers Spawn Sweet Technique for Nerve Repair, news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2009a/090226ShiNerves.html.

Greenwood, Veronique. “Future – The Amazing Chemistry of Candyfloss.” BBC, BBC, 28 Apr. 2016, http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160427-the-amazing-chemistry-of-candyfloss.

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