The field of tissue engineering holds great promise for the creation of replacement organs that bear no risk of rejection when transplanted into a patient. In a new study, a team of experts managed to remove a long-standing limitation that stifled progress in this field.
Investigators at the A*STAR Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, in Singapore, announce the development of a type of polymer fibers that can encapsulate different cells types in a spatially defined environment, as these grow in a culture.
This means that the engineered cells will from now on be able to thrive after being inserted in native tissue mimics, the research group explains. Polymer fibers of the type used for these applications are usually generated from self-assembling polyelectrolytes.
A*STAR investigators Andrew Wan and Jackie Y. Ying, the leaders of the research group, were able to create a new technique that fuses together several fibers from multiple polyelectrolyte interfaces.
While this may seem like a mouthful at first, the basic idea is quite simple. By connecting these fibers, the team was able to create a well-defined, spatially patterned array of micrometer-scale domains, or pockets. Inside these pockets, they can grow cells.
The reason why this is such an important achievement is that multiple types of cells can be grown together in the same array, a process called co-culture, PhysOrg
reports. Previously, the team obtained 3D scaffolds made up of polymers, and the new research is a continuation of that work.
One of the main goals the research group has is to emulate the way cells are found in the liver. All of the many cell types found in this critical organ function properly together because they are spatially patterned at precise intervals.
As opposed to other methods of obtaining this type of arrays, the new technique relies on the use of a gentle, water-based chemical process.
“When two oppositely charged polyelectrolytes come into contact with each other, a complex forms at their interface. Upward drawing of this complex leads to the formation of a fiber,” Wan explains.
Details of the new study were published in a recent issue of the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials.