Researchers at the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) found a way to encapsulate living cells and arrange them into 3-D structures.
The living cells are formed into cubes, and stacked on top of each other like building blocks. The blocks of cells are kept together by a gel-like substance. The process has been named “micromasonry,” as it is similar to practice of masonry.
Before the new technique was discovered, scientists were unsuccessful in getting the cells to grow in 3-D shapes. The cells that grew in lab dishes ultimately ended up in flat layers, contrary to what the scientists had hoped for. While the technique makes it possible to create 3-D artificial tissue, it is a challenging task. To obtain single cells that are necessary to the process, scientists must use enzymes to break the original tissue apart. These enzymes digest the extracellular material, which is responsible for holding the cells together.
Jennifer Elisseeff, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, praised the tiny cell blocks. “They’re very elegant and have a lot of flexibility in how you grow them,” she said.
After this process is complete, it is very difficult to assemble the free cells into a 3-d structure that is similar to the composition of the natural tissue. Scientists have been successful in building simple tissues. Such simple tissues include cartilage, skin, and bladder using biodegradable foam scaffolds.
Ali Khademhosseini, assistant professor of HST, says that such methods do not yield tissues with the same complexity as normal tissues. “You don’t get tissues with the same complexity as normal tissues,” he says.
Other researchers have developed a technique called organ printing to assemble 3-D tissues, but it requires machinery that is not often used. This makes the building blocks technique stand out, as it does not require special equipment.
“You can reproduce this in any lab,” former HST postdoctoral associate Javier Gomez Fernandez.
The new technique allows for artificial tissue to be created without expensive technology, signifying the possibility of artificial tissue being assembled abundantly.
“The short-term next step is really looking at different cell types and the viability of tissue growth,” says Jennifer Elisseeff, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
The researchers hope to discover the uses of different polymers that may be able to replace PEG (Polyethylene glycol), a popular polyether compound used in medicine. The researchers are looking for a polymer that may offer more control over cell placement.
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