Mar 8, 2016 | By Benedict

Researchers from the University of Toronto have used a 3D printer to develop a novel method of generating human tissue outside of the body. The AngioChip “person-on-a-chip” technique involves 3D printing tiny scaffolds which individual cells can grow on.

The Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering at U of T has been a busy place as of late. As part of an effort to develop a new drug-testing platform, a group of researchers from the department, led by Milica Radisic, a professor in the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering and the department of chemical engineering, developed AngioChip, a technology which could be used by pharmaceutical companies to test potential dangerous side effects of new drugs.

Although some bioprinting specialists such as Cyfuse Medical have denounced scaffold-based cell culture as inferior to other bioprinting methods, the technology behind AngioChip promises an new approach to the method. By 3D printing tiny intricate scaffolds on which individual cells can grow, the team of researchers at U of T has been able to produce cells and tissues that more closely resemble real human ones than do those grown in a petri dish. “In the last few years, it has become possible to order cultures of human cells for testing, but they’re grown on a plate, a two-dimensional environment,” Radisic said. “They don’t capture all the functional hallmarks of a real heart muscle, for example.”

The AngioChip, on the other hand, functions in a more realistic way than petri dish-grown alternatives. “It’s a fully three-dimensional structure complete with internal blood vessels,” Radisic said of the microchip-like scaffold. “It behaves just like vasculature, and around it there is a lattice for others cells to attach and grow.

The 3D printed scaffold is made from POMaC, a biodegradable and biocompatible polymer. Each of the scaffold’s thin layers is 3D printed, before being “stamped” with a pattern of channels 50-100 micrometers wide. The layers are then manually stacked on top of one another, with each layer bonded to the next with UV light. When the scaffold is fully assembled, it is bathed in a liquid of living cells, which attach to the inside and outside of the channels before growing as they would in a human body.

“Previously, people could only do this using devices that squish the cells between sheets of silicone and glass,” said Radisic. “You needed several pumps and vacuum lines to run just one chip. Our system runs in a normal cell culture dish, and there are no pumps. We use pressure heads to perfuse media through the vasculature. The wells are open, so you can easily access the tissue.”

The most remarkable aspect of AngioChip is its ability to not only create synthetic organ tissue, but to connect the blood vessels of two artificial organs. The platform can therefore be used to test the effect of drugs both on particular organs and on organ interaction. “You could link a tumor and heart cells together to see which drugs destroy the tumor without harming the heart,” Radisic explained.

Prof. Milica Radisic (above, UofT) and Boyang Zhang (Star)

The efficacy of the 3D printed AngioChip was demonstrated with a series of tests on rats. After the scaffold had been attached to a rat, the animal’s blood was able to pass freely through the AngioChip structure as though it were an organic part of the body. “You could actually see the rat’s blood flowing through our implanted engineered network,” said Boyang Zhang, a graduate student at U of T working with Radisic.

The researchers findings have been published in Nature Materials in the paper “Biodegradable scaffold with built-in vasculature for organ-on-a-chip engineering and direct surgical anastomosis.” Radisic and Zhang are now looking into ways of commercializing the 3D printed technology. Radisic plans to explore ways of automating the assembly of the AngioChip, whilst Zhang is currently focused on evaluating the chipset’s lifespan within the body.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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