Interview with Associate Professor Vladimír Velebný
Interview conducted by Kal Kaur
What products are currently being developed in Contipro’s nano- and micro-fiber research division?
We are developing special wound covers, anti-adhesive membranes for internal use, surgical gauzes, swabs and fillers, and systems for controlled drug release and tissue applications (tissue engineering and regenerative medicine). Clearly, then, the focus is on biopolymer-based medical applications. We have developed our 4SPIN device for research into new nano-applications.
Can you discuss the functional principle of the 4SPIN device?
The principle is based on the well-known method of electrospinning and spraying, and has also been extended to include the possibility of electroblowing. This is supported by the device's ability to spin even polymers that are more challenging to process.
What synthetic and natural polymers are best suited for this device?
We are still at the beginning of our exploration. However, we have had the time to test quite a few materials on 4SPIN. That said, of those tested, the results have been particularly good for the natural polymers like hyaluronic acid, collagen, gelatine and chitosan, and conventional synthetic polymers - polyurethane, polycaprolactone, and polylactic acid. Obviously, chemical derivatives and polymeric compounds can also be spun.
How is this device controlled?
The central control system is the PLC, a programmable logic unit used in industrial applications. It is controlled using a touch screen and multifunction knob. The PLC runs our internally developed software, which automatically monitors defined parameters; where necessary, the software can easily be customized. We have tried to make the control interface as intuitive as possible. The multifunction knob is used to tune specific parameters during the process, such as voltage, with the possibility of simultaneously monitoring events in the spinning chamber.
Associate Professor Vladimír Velebný, CEO, founder and R&D Director of Contipro, talks to AZoNano about Tuneable Electrospinning Technology for Nanofibers.
How does 4SPIN allow for high-efficiency spinning?
This is achieved with new patented technology in the form of a high-performance needleless multi-jet (E4), capable of rapidly producing fibers thanks to its design and combination with air flowing in the immediate vicinity of the jet. We have verified this method on production equipment, achieving production several times greater compared to commercially available systems. Furthermore, the nozzle is easy to clean and sterilize, which reduces the cost of maintenance and operation.
How has hyaluronan spinning inspired the development of 4SPIN?
High-molecular hyaluronan cannot be spun without electroblowing. It is necessary to evaporate up to 99% of the solvent in a very short time, before the fiber reaches the collecting electrode. The jet design, with the electroblowing option, is adapted to this.
What are the main advantages of 4SPIN?
From our point of view, the main advantages include its outstanding ability to spin materials and the possibility of achieving almost perfect uniaxially aligned nanofibers, its variability and usability, as well as the user friendliness and safety of the device.
What are the different parameters measured when using this device for nanofiber layer production?
During the process, the instantaneous values of high voltage and current, the flow speeds together with the temperature of the air around the jet, the temperature and the humidity in the deposition chamber are recorded. All settings (the distance between the electrodes, the emitter and collector used, the total spinning time, etc.) are also stored. These settings can be saved and called up again to achieve sample production under the same conditions.
How is this device installed?
Well, it's really easy. It is a desktop device, so you place this apparatus, about a metre in height, on the bench, and then connect the power supply and compressed air. After this, you simply draw the solution into the syringe and you are ready to spin.
How will the application of this device help businesses and scientific institutions to speed up the upscale process from basic research to the development of products?
The preparation of nanomaterials on 4Spin is so easy that the initial training of new operators is fast (up to 2 hours). This is very important if the device is to be used by numerous students or researchers. They can log in to the device under their own name and save their own process parameters. The emitter and collector sets have been designed to cover all levels of development of new materials, from initial efforts to spin material to the rapid creation of test samples with the same properties.
How does this device influence and control the parameters of nanofibers?
The unit offers a wide range of experimental options and is very flexible. The selection of electrodes, the distance between them, the acting voltage, the dosing mixture and climatic conditions in the immediate vicinity of the jets can affect the morphology of the resulting products. These process parameters are also accurately and reliably controlled. It is very important to deliver stable process conditions; other conditions depend on the optimization of the chemical and physical parameters of the solution spun.
What are the major development steps ahead for this device and are you working on any other products for the handling of nanofibers?
First, we plan to extend the range of device accessories to include additional electrodes, e.g. for the preparation of composite materials. We are also keen to offer more options for the preparation of materials according to the different requirements of specific applications. We are already developing larger production facilities using 4SPIN technology so that newly developed materials from laboratory equipment can be evolved quickly into final applications and reach the market promptly.
Where can we find further information on your products and services?
You can contact our device team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Associate Professor Vladimír Velebný
Vladimír Velebný was born in 1949. He studied Biochemistry at Masaryk University in Brno, graduated with his Ph.D. in 1980 and became an Associate Professor in 2012. In 1990 he became the founder of Contipro. At present, Professor Vladimir Velebny is the CEO and R&D Director of Contipro holding, the world's leading manufacturer of hyaluronan. Professor Vladimir Velebny is the author and co-author of 71 scientific publications and 42 patents. He participated in the creation of the new study program ‘Chemistry for Medical Applications’ at the Technical University in Brno. He regularly lectures at the Technical University in Brno, Masaryk University and the Academy of Sciences.