Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a prototype bioreactora device for culturing cells to create engineered tissuesthat both stimulates and evaluates tissue as it grows, mimicking natural processes while eliminating the need to stop periodically to cut up samples for analysis. Tissue created this way might someday be used to replace, for example, damaged or diseased cartilage in the knee and hip.
Conventional methods for evaluating the development and properties of engineered tissue are time-consuming, destructive and need to be repeated many times. By using ultrasound to monitor tissue during processing without destroying it, the novel bioreactor could be a faster and less expensive alternative.
"Most bioreactors don't do any type of nondestructive evaluation," says NIST postdoctoral researcher Jenni Popp, first author of a new paper* about the instrument. "Having some sort of ongoing evaluation of the developing tissue is definitely novel."
Cartilage is smooth connective tissue that supports joint motion. Natural cartilage is created by specialized cells that generate large amounts of structural proteins to weave a tough support material called extracellular matrix. Lacking blood vessels, cartilage has limited capability to heal from arthritis, sports injuries or other defects. Damage can be treated with drugs or joint replacement but results can be imperfect. Engineered tissue is used in some medical treatments but is not yet a routine alternative to metal or plastic joint replacements. The NIST bioreactor gives researchers a noninvasive way to monitor important structural changes in developing tissue.
The NIST/CU bioreactor can fit inside a standard incubator, which controls temperature and acidity in the growth environment. The bioreactor applies force to stimulate five small cubes of cartilage cells embedded in water-based gels. The mechanical force mimics the
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National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)