Dec 21, 2018 | By Cameron

A team of Korean researchers from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) and Seoul National University (SNU) has 3D printed a functional airway-on-a-chip. The “on-a-chip” moniker describes an analogue model that mimics biochemical responses; these models are used for studying illnesses and the effects of their treatments. In this case, airways are susceptible to respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic lung disease, and rhinosinusitis.

By creating a bio-ink containing a mixture of a decellularized extracellular matrix (dECM) isolated from pig trachea and mucosal cells isolated from human trachea, the research team was able to 3D print a device with a network of blood vessels that connect with epithelial cells. Lead author of the study, Ju Young Park, explains, “We reproduced an in-vivo-like 3D vascular network by assembling endothelial cells and fibroblasts using the dECM bio-ink in a one-step printing process.”

“The structure we produced has the same physiological functions as the biological airway epithelium and so can be used to model diseases like asthma,” said Park, elaborating that the printed airway exhibited the natural allergic response when exposed to dust mites. “The presence of blood vessels, for example, leads to an excessive production of proinflammatory cytokines in our airway model. This process (also known as the ‘cytokine storm’) occurs during asthmatic airway inflammation and allergen-induced asthma exacerbation in the physiological context.”

The six-head 3D bioprinter used in the study is rather advanced. “Two of the printing heads were connected to a pneumatic pressure-based system that dispenses a synthetic polymer to fabricate the supporting framework for the airway,” commented Park. “The other four printing heads operate on a three-axis motorized stage and we control their movement using computer programs.”

Human airways are extremely complex, with layers of membranes that interact with each other. “To mimic this complex 2D/3D structure and the cellular composition of the airway mucosa, we assembled a 2D airway epithelium on a 3D vascular platform,” Park explained. “We reconstructed the natural 3D vascular network by 3D cell printing the dECM bio-ink containing endothelial cells and fibroblasts. The dECM bio-ink in fact provides the cell with an in-vivo-like niche of native tissue that induces tissue-specific differentiation and function.”

Despite the level of complexity involved, the 3D bioprinting technique is more efficient than other methods of fabricating organs-on-a-chip. “Our 3D cell-printing system allows us to easily fabricate airway prototypes in high throughput and also allows us to directly place various types of cell at specific locations on the airway structure to mimic how cells arrange themselves in native tissue,” Park relates. “The technique could be used to design many types of chip and even print organ models other than the airway.”

Testing drugs on animals and humans is costly, time consuming, and often unethical, so producing organs-on-a-chip that accurately mimic human organs is a necessary step in advancing medicine. “Our new model could be used to study these interactions and better understand the role they play in human respiratory diseases,” said Park. “The 3D cell printed airway-on-a-chip could therefore be used as a powerful complement to animal models for analysing pathophysiology and testing the efficiency of drugs in the preclinical phase.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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