New York, NYMarch 11, 2013Researchers at Columbia Engineering have developed a new "plug-and-play" method to assemble complex cell microenvironments that is a scalable, highly precise way to fabricate tissues with any spatial organization or interestsuch as those found in the heart or skeleton or vasculature. The study reveals new ways to better mimic the enormous complexity of tissue development, regeneration, and disease, and is published in the March 4 Early Online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"George Eng, an MD/PhD student in my lab who just received his doctoral degree, designed a lock-and-key technique to build cellular assemblies using a variety of shapes that lock into templates much the way you would use LEGO building blocks," says Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, who led the study and is the Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia Engineering and professor of medical sciences. "What is really important about this technique is that these shapes are tinyjust a fraction of millimeter, the thickness of a human hairand that their precise arrangements are made using cell-friendly hydrogels."
Tissue cells in the human body form specific architectures that are critical for the function of each tissue. Cardiac cells, for example, are aligned to create maximum force acting in one direction. Cells without specific spatial organization may never become fully functional if they do not recapitulate their intrinsic organization found in the body. The Columbia Engineering technique enables researchers to construct unique and controlled cell patterns that allow precise studies of cell function, so that, Vunjak-Novakovic adds, "we can now ask some of the more complex questions about how the cells respond to the entire context of their environment. This will help us explore cellular behavior during the progression of disease and test the effects of drugs, stem cells, and various oth
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