Wayne State University has received a $665,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to create a new model to study neurofibroma formation, a condition that can cause a tumor to grow anywhere a nerve runs.
The genetically inherited condition affects one out of every 3,500 people. Harini Sundararaghavan, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Wayne State, says to date, there’s no cure for the disease, no preventative medicine against it, and there’s not a good understanding of how and why tumors form along the nerves.
Sundararaghavan’s work focuses on fabricating nanofibers spun from hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring polymer, to control cell behavior. She says the fibers are small enough that they can be used to mimic the fibrous scaffold of a human nerve pathway.
Sundararaghavan and Raymond Mattingly, professor of pharmacology at the Wayne State School of Medicine, partnered to create a three-dimensional model that included not just the tumor but also the peripheral nerve structures that it grows on. She says the model can provide insights and allow researchers to examine how various drugs might affect tumor growth.
“Initially we were talking about using some of the materials to make better scaffolds for the in vitro tumor development, but when we looked at it more we realized maybe the fibers themselves are the key component,” Sundararaghavan says. She adds ordinarily, synthetic material made for 3D culture models is gelatin like and lacks characteristics similar to natural biological tissue structures.
“Once we know why the tumor forms, we may be able to get rid of it or discourage the tumor from forming,” Sundararaghavan says.
She says a clinical trial could eventually result in the first effective treatment for the genetic condition.