Pulse 66: High Precision Tissue Engineering with Artificial Cells

21 May 2018
Giulio Prisco

Artificial Cell Laser

In a spectacular advance toward high-precision tissue engineering, Imperial College researchers have assembled artificial cells into useful biological tissue (see below), like Lego blocks. The artificial cells have a membrane-like layer as their shell, which the researchers engineered to stick to each other. Then, the researchers used laser traction beams to accurately position the cells.

“[We] were able to form networks of cells connected by ‘biojunctions’,” said the lead researcher. “By reinserting biological components such as proteins in the membrane, we could get the cells to communicate and exchange material with one another. This mimics what is seen in nature, so it’s a great step forward in creating biological-like artificial cell tissues.”

"We can now start to scale up basic cell technologies into larger tissue-scale networks, with precise control over the kind of architecture we create,” added another researcher.

In other news, a scientific study has confirmed that increasing physical activity to recommended levels over as few as six years in middle age is associated with a significantly decreased risk of heart failure. An international clinical trial has revealed that patients with stroke caused by bleeding on the brain (intracerebral hemorrhage) may benefit from receiving tranexamic acid (TXA), a drug currently used to treat blood loss.

Traction beams assemble artificial cells into tissue structures. Researchers at Imperial College London have used lasers to connect, arrange, and merge artificial cells, paving the way for networks of artificial cells that act like tissues. A study published in Nature Communications describes how the scientists used optical tweezers - traction beams able to drag and drop cells into any position - to assemble, reconfigure, and dismantle networks of cell-sized vesicles engineered to exhibit several interesting properties in different experimental scenarios.

High-performance nanochannel delivery system for drugs. Researchers at Houston Methodist and Rice University have developed a nanochannel delivery system, a membrane that acts as a filter with hundreds of thousands of uniform nanoscale channels. The membrane is created with semiconductor technologies commonly adopted for fabricating computer microchips. The scientists are persuaded that the research results, published in Nature Communications, will impact the design of new drug delivery systems at the molecular level.

Advance toward growing new organs in the lab. Researchers at Oregon State University have found that Pax3+ cells, precursor cells for skeletal muscles, actually also give rise to neurons, blood vessels, blood cells, and immune cells, pushing science one step closer to generating body parts in a laboratory. The research results, published in Scientific Reports, indicate that Pax3+ cells act as a multifaceted stem cell niche for multiple organs at embryonic stages. According to the scientists, the research opens the potential to use stem cells to grow a new arm or leg or other organ for someone who's lost a body part to accident or disease.

RNA-mediated memory transfer between snails. Biologists at UC Los Angeles have transferred a memory from one marine snail to another, creating an artificial memory, by injecting RNA from one to another. This research, described in a study published in eNeuro, could lead to new ways to alter traumatic memories and perhaps new ways to restore lost memories. Another important aspect of this research is that it seems to support the hypothesis that memories are stored in the nucleus of neurons. According to the lead scientist, the experiment would not have worked if memories were stored at synapses.

Cheap plug-and-play diagnostic devices built with reusable blocks. Researchers at MIT have developed a set of modular blocks that can be put together in different ways to cheaply produce diagnostic devices. These “plug-and-play” devices, which require little expertise to assemble, can test blood glucose levels in diabetic patients or detect viral infection, among other functions. A research paper published in Advanced Healthcare Materials describes modular paperfluidics driven by a prefabricated reusable library of asynchronous modular paperfluidic linear instrument‐free (Ampli) blocks. The blocks are inspired by the plug‐and‐play modularity of electronic breadboards that lower prototyping barriers in circuit design. The researchers are now working on devices to detect cancer, as well as Zika virus and other infectious diseases.

New method permits rapidly screening for cancer drugs. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have developed a new method to screen for potential cancer drugs. The technique, described in a research paper published in Oncogene, makes use of tiny, three-dimensional ball-like aggregates of cells called spheroids. These structures can be used to interrogate hundreds or even thousands of compounds rapidly using a technique called high throughput screening. In fact, by using this approach, the team has already identified one potential drug for an important cancer gene.

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