Organ-on-a-chip technology promises to provide a novel platform for testing new therapies in well controlled environments that maintain the basic functionality of organs while allowing scientists to manipulate and analyze what happens to them. The problem has been keeping tissues alive long enough to perform the necessary experiments. Researchers at the Center for Engineering in Medicine at the Mass General have developed a new material that provides a welcoming environment for liver cells to thrive while inside of microfluidic devices.
Microfluidics can create microenvironments into which investigational drugs can be added, the temperature changed, and any number of other variables controlled. The new nanoscale biomaterial is made out of collagen that was carefully applied to liver cells laying atop a charged surface and layered over them. The team believes the same technique can be used to create biological coatings for guiding cell growth, keeping the cells functioning normally, and help them stick to the device where they’re being worked on.
“This is a clever combination of the well-known layer-by-layer deposition technique for creating thin matrix assemblies and collagen functionalization chemistries that will really enable complex liver microtissue engineering by replicating the physiological cues that maintain the state of liver cell differentiation,” said Martin Yarmush, M.D., Ph.D., of the Massachusetts General Hospital and senior author on this paper in a statement. “The ultrathin collagen matrix biomaterial and its ability to keep liver cells functional for longer periods of time in chip devices will undoubtedly be a useful tool for creating liver microtissues that mimic the true physiology of the liver, including cell and matrix spatial geometries.”