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Making bigger 'mini-organs' for research

15 February 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1083

Another breakthrough has been made towards the development of artificially-engineered tissue that mimics real organs (biomimetics) that can be used for research.

A team of bioengineers and stem cell researchers at the University of Cambridge has developed a novel approach to create miniature versions of the respiratory tubes found in mice. Using stem cell derived organoids, the scientists managed to manipulate the cells into continuous biomimetic organ structures.

'In order to scale them up, which would increase their usefulness in medical research, we need to find the right conditions to help the cells self-organise.' said Dr Yan Yan Shery Huang, co-lead of the research published in Advanced Science.

Dr Huang and her team instigated a new organoid bioengineering technique called Multi-Organoid Patterning and Fusion (MOrPF). This meant clusters of organoid cells were shaped into miniature airway tubes using a specialised polymer mould and then removed from the mould after a day to allow the gradual formation of a hollow tube structure. Following this release, the tubes were given two weeks in a free-floating environment to fuse together and form a seamlessly connected continuous tube structure.

'Gradual maturation of the cells is really important,' said Dr Joo-Hyeon Lee, co-lead of the research. 'The cells need to be well-organised before we can release them so that the structures don't collapse.'

Using time-lapse imaging and modelling techniques, the research group found that the MOrPF method achieved accelerated fusion of organoids into respiratory tubes and uninterrupted passageway through the tissue. These findings are even more noteworthy because the stem cells were able to assemble like this without external scaffolding to support the tubular structure.

'The interesting thing is, the special mechanical properties of the cell membrane of organoids make the resulting fused shape preserve the shape of the mould,' said co-author Professor Eugene Terentjev.

This method may be scaled-up to size-relevant organ tubes, which will advance research to better understand how these complex organs operate both normally and when diseased. Size-relevant biomimetic organs could provide the opportunity to study new treatments, whilst reducing the number of animals used in research, that in the future could be personalised if the stem cells are taken from the patient.

Bio‐assembling macro‐scale, lumenized airway tubes of defined shape via multi‐organoid patterning and fusion
Advanced Science |  8 February 2021
New method developed for 'up-sizing' mini organs used in medical research
University of Cambridge |  8 February 2021
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