Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Polymer Engineering

Major Professor

Wei He

Committee Members

Roberto S. Benson, Kevin M. Kit


Chitosan is widely investigated for biomedical applications due to its excellent properties, such as biocompatibility, biodegradability, bioadhesivity, antibacterial, etc. In the field of neural engineering, it has been extensively studied in forms of film and hydrogel, and has been used as scaffolds for nerve regeneration in the peripheral nervous system and spinal cord. One of the main issues in neural engineering is the incapability of neuron to attach on biomaterials. The present study, from a new aspect, aims to take advantage of the bio-adhesive property of chitosan to develop chitosan-based materials for neural engineering, specifically in the fields of brain repair and neuroprosthetics. Neuronal responses to the developed biomaterials will also be investigated and discussed.

In the first part of this study (Chapter II), chitosan was blended with a well-studied hydrogel material (agarose) to form a simply prepared hydrogel system. The stiffness of the agarose gel was maintained despite the inclusion of chitosan. The structure of the blended hydrogels was characterized by light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. In vitro cell studies revealed the capability of chitosan to promote neuron adhesion. The concentration of chitosan in the hydrogel had great influence on neurite extension. An optimum range of chitosan concentration in agarose hydrogel, to enhance neuron attachment and neurite extension, was identified based on the results. A “steric hindrance” effect of chitosan was proposed, which explains the origin of the morphological differences of neurons in the blended gels as well as the influence of the physical environment on neuron adhesion and neurite outgrowth. This chitosan-agarose (C-A) hydrogel system and its multi-functionality allow for applications of simply prepared agarose-based hydrogels for brain tissue repair.

In the second part of this study (Chapter III), chitosan was blended with graphene to form a series of graphene-chitosan (G-C) nanocomposites for potential neural interface applications. Both substrate-supported coatings and free standing films could be prepared by air evaporation of precursor solutions. The electrical conductivity of graphene was maintained after the addition of chitosan, which is non-conductive. The surface characteristic of the films was sensitively dependent on film composition, and in turn, influenced neuron adhesion and neurite extension. Biological studies showed good cytocompatibility of graphene for both fibroblast and neuron. Good cell-substrate interactions between neurons and G-C nanocomposites were found on samples with appropriate compositions. The results suggest this unique nanocomposite system may be a promising substrate material used for the fabrication of implantable neural electrodes.

Overall, these studies confirmed the bio-adhesive property of chitosan. More importantly, the developed chitosan-based materials also have great potential in the fields of neural tissue engineering and neuroprosthetics.

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