CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Tissue engineering has long held promise for building new organs to replace damaged livers, blood vessels and other body parts. However, one major obstacle is getting cells grown in a lab dish to form 3-D shapes instead of flat layers.
Researchers at the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) have come up with a new way to overcome that challenge, by encapsulating living cells in cubes and arranging them into 3-D structures, just as a child would construct buildings out of blocks.
The new technique, dubbed "micromasonry," employs a gel-like material that acts like concrete, binding the cell "bricks" together as it hardens. Ali Khademhosseini, assistant professor of HST, and former HST postdoctoral associate Javier Gomez Fernandez describe the work in a paper published online in the journal Advanced Materials.
The tiny cell bricks hold potential for building artificial tissue or other types of medical devices, says Jennifer Elisseeff, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, who was not involved in the research. "They're very elegant and have a lot of flexibility in how you grow them," she says. "It's very creative."
To obtain single cells for tissue engineering, researchers have to first break tissue apart, using enzymes that digest the extracellular material that normally holds cells together. However, once the cells are free, it's difficult to assemble them into structures that mimic natural tissue microarchitecture.
Some scientists have successfully built simple tissues such as skin, cartilage or bladder on biodegradable foam scaffolds. "That works, but it often lacks a controlled microarchitecture," says Khademhosseini, who is also an assistant professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "You don't get tissues with the same complexity as normal tissues."
The HST researchers built their "biological Legos" by encapsulating ce
|Contact: Jennifer Hirsch|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology