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Poly-L-lactic acid nanotubes as soft piezoelectric interfaces for biology: controlling cell attachment via polymer crystallinity

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Smith, Michael 
Chalklen, Thomas 
Lindackers, Cathrin 
Howe, Caitlin 


It has become increasingly evident that the mechanical and electrical environment of a cell is crucial in determining its function and the subsequent behaviour of multicellular systems. Platforms through which cells can directly interface with mechanical and electrical stimuli are therefore of great interest. Piezoelectric materials are attractive in this context due to their ability to inter-convert mechanical and electrical energy, and piezoelectric nanomaterials in particular are ideal candidates for tools within mechanobiology, given their ability to both detect and apply small forces on a length scale that is compatible with cellular dimensions. The choice of piezoelectric material is crucial to ensure compatibility with cells under investigation, both in terms of stiffness and biocompatibility. Here, we show that poly-L-lactic acid nanotubes, grown by a melt-press template wetting technique, can provide a “soft” piezoelectric interface onto which human dermal fibroblasts readily attach. Interestingly, by controlling the crystallinity of the nanotubes, the level of attachment can be regulated. In this work, we provide detailed nanoscale characterization of these nanotubes to show how differences in stiffness, surface potential and piezoelectric activity of these nanotubes result in differences in cellular behaviour.



mechanobiology, polymer nanotubes, piezoelectric polymer, poly-L-lactic acid, fibroblasts, cell attachment

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ACS Applied Bio Materials

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European Research Council (639526)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/R022283/1)
European Research Council (320598)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/N019938/1)
EPSRC (2108505)