17. May 2021

Although Lucie Pejchalová was studying chemistry, the work with organic material did not attract her very much. She was more interested in new inorganic material. So at the beginning of her studies at university, she started to work at CEITEC BUT in a research group focused on advanced ceramic materials, under the leadership of David Salamon. For her project, she won a prestigious award Brno Ph.D. Talent. 

How did you get to work in a research group focused on advanced ceramic materials? 

I got to this job through associated professor Salamon, who has been my lecturer since  bachelor’s studies. When I was a freshman, he mentioned in which area of research he was working on, it intrigued me. After the first year, I wrote and asked him, if he would have a job for me. By that time, he was searching for a laboratory technician, so I started participating in his team in 2015. Gradually I got acquainted with the material and with time got more difficult challenges. I already knew during my master’s studies that I wanted to continue on this team. 

The research group of advanced ceramic materials has a broad focus. Can you particularize your specification? 

Since my bachelor’s studies, I have specialized in bioceramic materials, so with materials imitating bones and hard tissues. Nevertheless, our group also focuses on ballistic protection, so we work with bulletproof ceramic materials which could be used for army vehicles. Then we will also research heatproof ceramic materials used in furnaces where the temperature exceeds 1500 °C.

So you are specifically researching materials designed for the health service. 

Yes. More specifically, I am dealing with the preparation and also with testing bioceramic reactors and scaffolds, which could be used in the area of implantation, namely in the treatment of nervous tissues. 

You won the Brno Ph.D. Talent award for the project where you design bioreactors and scaffolds. Can you specify its function?

We defined bioreactors as a platform, that should be used for the cultivation of cells and their testing. In other words, thanks to bioreactors, we will be able to find out if the material is suitable for the cell with which it will be in contact in the body. Also, those bioreactors should be used for easier screening of biological structures. As for scaffolds, they will be used for testing the regeneration of nervous tissue and future implantation. 

How do you prepare it? 

We are using special techniques. Particularly, we are using a modern technique called freeze-casting, which allows us to prepare complex and porous structures. The cell never sticks to smooth material, it needs folds and a porous structure. Also, the microstructure has to match the size of the cell because, for example, bones cells and nerve cells have different sizes. 

So the modern technologies such as freeze-casting help to prepare microstructures that allow faster regeneration of a cell? 

Yes. The goal is to prepare such a microstructure with pores large enough for axons to pass through, because axons are nerve cell protrusions allowing transmission of information between neurons. 

What stage of the project are you currently at?

Over the last quarter of the year, we have been able to obtain preliminary results on how cells respond to the microstructure we have prepared. At the same time, we have tried a variation of about three materials and so far it seems feasible and successful. We mainly tested bioreactors using the in vitro method – outside the organism, and we observed the cell's response to the given material. In the next phase, in vivo testing, testing inside of a body should follow, for which the created scaffolds will be used. Thanks to this, we will be able to observe, for example, the reactions of the immune and nervous systems. It will be more complex.

What is the main advantage of using bioceramics in the field of implantation compared to those commonly used today?

Ceramic materials are now commonly used, for example, for bone or tooth replacements. At the cellular level, polymer scaffolds are now mainly used. The problem is that they degrade rapidly in the body fluid, so that cell regeneration does not take place in the microstructure. In other words, the axons of nerve cells do not meet. Another problem is that the material is not so stable. Take plastic, for example – it is also a polymer. Therefore, these implants are not suitable, for example, in the area of ​​the spine where there is a high load. Therefore, scaffolds based on bioceramic materials could in the future support the function of nerve tissue cells in the area of ​​the spine.

Author: Aneta Matysová (edited by Craig Binding)

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