The future of lab-grown tissue could lie in the shoes you wore as a kid. You know, the kind with Velcro straps and light-up bottoms. They probably had Spiderman on them.
Inside the body, cells grow with protein scaffolds to guide them. But in the lab, things are a little trickier. Researchers at the University of Toronto devised a way to grow thin sheets of heart tissue on honeycomb-like mesh scaffolds made of a biodegradable polymer. Growing tissue on an artificial structure isn't new, but this particular structure is outfitted with a Velcro-like hooks and loops so that sheets of tissue can be snapped together and stacked.
"One future scenario you can imagine is: Every individual has a unique infarct [area of dead tissue], or in the case of a myocardial infarction, a unique location or perhaps a smaller or larger size," said Miles Montgomery, co-author of the paper. "Almost in situ, you could make a designer tissue, on-location, that could be built up to fit the patient perfectly."
The researchers' work is described in a paper published today in Science Advances.
With this technique, much like 3D-printed tissue, you can build any size of structure you want. The structures snap together like LEGOs. But because electrical field stimulation gets them to beat in synchrony, you don't have to wait for the cells to integrate. Also, if you want to take a look at the cells in the middle of the structure, you can simply pop that section out and then back in. This isn't possible with printed tissue, which has also had some recent successes.
"This is so you can test if the application of certain molecules to enhance the survival of cells will actually behave the way you think they will behave," said Milica Radisic, principal investigator at the University of Toronto's laboratory for functional tissue engineering and corresponding author of the paper. "One of the limitations in tissue engineering is that the cells in the middle die. That's important."
There's plenty of work to be done yet. Perhaps most importantly, the team has to test whether or not their structures will hold up inside the body. A non-invasive delivery mechanism is also on the agenda, and the team hopes that they'll find a way to inject the tissues grown on the scaffolds using a syringe.
Despite what I thought when I was 10, it turns out that there actually is something cooler than my friend Dan's light-up Velcro kicks.