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Hydrogel Culture Process Developed for Tissue Engineering

Cells in hydrogel culture spell out Toronto (Lian Leng, University of Toronto)

Cells in hydrogel culture spell out Toronto (Lian Leng, University of Toronto). Click on image for full-size display.

Engineers at University of Toronto in Canada developed a culture that can grow tissue cells in sufficient quantities and precision that it can lead to devices to produce treatments such as skin grafts on demand. The findings appear in the July issue of the journal Advanced Materials (paid subscription required), and the technology is being prepared for commercial development.

The team led by engineering professors Axel Guenther and Milica Radisic devised a microfluidic device that enables and controls the flow of biopolymers on a sheet of another biopolymer material. The mixing of the chemicals forms what the researchers call a mosaic hydrogel, a type of culture that make possible the growth of cells into living tissues. The process can be used to grow different kinds of cells and with precise placement in the culture.

One advantage of this approach is that the entire process can be done in one step. Other tissue engineering approaches require multiple steps, such as first installing a scaffold on which new tissue cells can grow. Another advantage is the precise placement of the new tissue cells, which can be useful for creating exact matches of damaged tissue to replace. Three-dimensional structures can be created, also in precise dimensions, by layering the cells around a model.

The team demonstrated the technology’s ability to produce cells in precise locations by spelling out TORONTO on a hydrogel culture; see image at top.

In addition, say the researchers, the process can grow cells in the quantities needed for treatments. Guenther notes that previous studies had produced minute quantities of cells, “but until now no one has demonstrated a simple and scalable one-step process to go from microns to centimeters.”

MaRS Innovation, a Toronto technology transfer organization that represents a number of Canadian research labs, has begun commercializing the mosaic hydrogel process. The university labs developing the process also filed two patents for it.

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