MIT researchers are developing a technique to systematically grow blood vessels in a lab, perhaps one day providing on-demand replacement capillary networks, or even arteries and veins, to treat a variety of conditions.
From MIT News:
The team has created a surface that can serve as a template to grow capillary tubes aligned in a specific direction.
The researchers built their template using microfabrication machinery at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge. Normally such technology is used to build micro-scale devices, but the researchers adapted it to create nano-scale patterns on a silicone elastomer substrate. The surface is patterned with ridges and grooves that guide the cells’ growth.
“The cells can sense (the patterns), and they end up elongated in the direction of those grooves,” said Christopher Bettinger, MIT graduate student in materials science and engineering and lead author of the paper.
The cells, known as endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs), not only elongate in the direction of the grooves, but also align themselves along the grooves. That results in a multicellular structure with defined edges, also called a band structure.
Once the band structures form, the researchers apply a commonly used gel that induces cells to form three-dimensional tubes. Unlike cells grown on a flat surface, which form a network of capillary tubes extending in random directions, cells grown on the nano-patterned surface form capillaries aligned in the direction chosen by the researchers.
The researchers believe the technique works best with EPCs because they are relatively immature cells. Earlier attempts with other types of cells, including mature epithelial cells, did not produce band structures.
Image caption: When endothelial progenitor cells are grown on a nanopatterned substrate, they align in the direction of the pattern (right). At left are cells grown on a flat surface.
More from MIT News Office…