By adapting a programmable device used to manufacture integrated circuits, researchers have devised a semi-automated process to build polymer scaffolds for guiding the development of three-dimensional heart tissue. The method, which entails layer-by-layer fabrication, will enable more precise investigation of the three-dimensional cues that drive cells to organize and form tissue—and could serve as a platform for the development of implantable organ tissue.
Tissue engineers can already make three-dimensional constructs of relatively simple tissues. But highly ordered cellular architectures essential to the function of complicated organs like the heart are much harder to replicate.
Tissue is grown in the lab by “seeding” scaffolds—usually composed of a porous elastic or gelatinous material—with cells meant to develop into specific tissues. Cardiac tissue’s function stems from its “multiscale architecture,” in which individual cells align to form multicellular fibers, which in turn form sheets of tissue, says Martin Kolewe, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT’s Institute of Mechanical Engineering and Science. Recent work has focused on determining how to guide cells to make them align correctly and form these hierarchical components. But such research has mostly been confined to two dimensions. Kolewe and lead investigator Lisa Freed of Draper Laboratory set out to develop a way to more precisely control the design of pore “networks,” with the aim of adding a third dimension. A new paper in Advanced Materials describes the research.