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The University of Southampton

Research project: Attard: Complex synthetic multicellular structures as novel devices and model systems.

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The aim of this research programme is to use existing as well as new tissue scaffolds to produce 3D structures containing functionally different groups of cells that are integrated into a device capable of responding to an external signal.key words: tissue engineering, scaffold, gels, synthetic tissue, synthetic organ, semi-biotic devices.

This research programme uses a range of gels, including a novel one developed at Southampton, as a generic route to complex, structurally differentiated ‘artificial’ tissue and organ-like devices. The gels can be processed in a variety of ways, but we are focussing on thixotropic gels as these can be injected into a mould, and once the shear forces from the injection process are dissipated, they become rigid. Unlike other tissue culture scaffolds, however, the setting of the gel is not accompanied by the evolution of heat, which often reduces cell viability. Our initial studies using bone marrow progenitor cells have shown that cells dispersed within the gel survive the flow cycle and the gelled scaffold supports cell proliferation. Seeding gel layers with cells enables us to assemble multilayer structures that can then be used to produce more complex 3D architectures. to construct systems with complex architectures. This programme is still in its early stages so much of the work is concerned with optimising the formulation of gel scaffolds to support ‘normal’ development and proliferation of a range of cell types over extended periods. These gel compositions will be used to develop reproducible methods of assembling or fabricating multilayer structures. This will entail modelling microfluidic and diffusion characteristics of vasculature-like microchannels within the multilayers to determine optimal methods of delivering nutrients or O2 at specific points in the structure, and of removing metabolites or waste products. A steady-state multilayer system supporting at least three distinct cell types that exhibit different functionalities (e.g. analyte detection, signal transport/processing, affector function) is the first target of the project. This programme involves a collaboration with Richard Oreffor (Medicine) and Hywel Morgan (Electronics & Computer Science).

Multilayer gelled tissue scaffold (each layer ~1 mm)
click on image to enlarge

Related research groups

Chemical Biology, Diagnostics and Therapeutics
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