There is an increasing interest toward the use of graphene (G) and G-related materials (GRMs) for biomedical applications, especially for targeting the central nervous system. We are conducting our research within the Graphene Flagship European project, focusing our attention on the interaction between G nanomaterials and primary neurons (Bramini et al, 2016), glial and microglia cells (Chiacchiaretta et al, revised version under evaluation). Moreover, we are exploring the possibility of using G-based supports as biocompatible scaffolds for biomedical applications (Graphene Flagship, WP4). We are also exploiting CVD graphene as a flexible and powerful conductor to improve the performance of polymeric artificial retina devices (WP5). Finally, we are investigating the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which G and GRMs interact with the blood-brain barrier (WP4), to assess the possibility of using these materials for drug delivery applications targeted to the central nervous system.
For an effective repair of nervous system injuries, it is necessary to control the growth and functional connectivity of 3D neuronal networks. In 3D scaffolds for neurons the macroscopic structure should be determined by imaging at a millimeter and micrometer resolution, while the scaffold substrate is patterned and decorated with guidance molecules at a nanometer resolution. We developed a nanopatterned biocompatible poly--caprolactone (PCL) film, which is effective to enhance the expression of neuronal markers and supports the development and maturation of the neuronal network (Cesca et al., 2014). We also applied a combination of 3D topography and nanostructured surfaces to develop superhydrophobic (SH) scaffolds made of an array of teflon-coated pillars, which supported the "suspended" substrate-free growth of mixed-cell populations including neuronal and glial co-cultures (Limongi et al., 2012). Moreover, we have recently optimized 3D hydrophobic micropillared PCL scaffolds characterized by micro- and nanostructured topography for the in vitro controlled release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (Limongi et al., 2018).