New method for producing biocompatible microfibers could revolutionize tissue engineering

Biomedical technology is increasingly recognizing the importance of tissue engineering for the ex-vivo production of skin or organs. One crucial aspect of this field is the development of biocompatible microfibers containing enclosed microcapsules of controlled size and shape. These microfibers mimic the natural arrangement of cells in vivo and serve as a suitable material for embedding cells used in tissue engineering.

In the past, the production of such fibers has been both expensive and time-consuming, yielding low output. However, a groundbreaking method has been developed by Carole Planchette and her team from the Institute of Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer at Graz University of Technology (TU Graz). Their innovative technique enables the production of microfibers with the desired properties, which can be employed in pharmaceuticals and biomedicine. Furthermore, this method yields significantly higher outputs compared to previous approaches, while requiring less production effort.

In their paper published in Physical Review Applied, the researchers detail their development that allows for the creation of several meters of microfiber within seconds. By shifting away from the conventional approach of producing microfibers in a liquid environment using microfluidic chips, they have achieved this accelerated production in a sterile room air setting. This transition has resulted in a substantial reduction in process steps, costs, and potential sources of errors and blockages.

Overall, the novel technique developed by the team at TU Graz presents a promising advancement in the field of tissue engineering, enabling more efficient and cost-effective production of biocompatible microfibers for various biomedical applications.

Droplets meet liquid jet

The newly developed method involves combining a steady stream of droplets containing cells or active substances with a liquid jet of alginic acid solution derived from brown algae. When the alginic acid comes into contact with calcium cations, it forms an elastic hydrogel called alginate, similar to the process used in molecular cuisine to create caviar pearls.

This alginate hydrogel is not only fully biocompatible but also prevents the embedded droplets from merging together. To solidify the alginic acid solution stream, a continuous stream of calcium cations is jetted on top. The resulting fiber, which can be grown at a rapid rate of up to 5 meters per second, is then collected on a turntable. Unlike previous methods that relied on liquid microfluidic production, all these steps take place in the air.

The next stage for Carole Planchette and her team is to integrate cells into the microfiber. In a few years, it may be possible to produce a fiber assembly that mimics human skin using this innovative technique. This advancement holds great potential for burn victims, as personalized and rapidly produced skin for transplantation could be created from the patient’s own intact skin cells.

In pursuit of this goal, the researchers at TU Graz are collaborating with the Medical University of Graz to explore the production of artificial skin. Looking even further ahead, perhaps more than a decade from now, there is a possibility of using these microfibers to produce artificial organs.

This remarkable breakthrough in microfiber production paves the way for significant advancements in tissue engineering, offering promising prospects for regenerative medicine and providing hope for patients in need of skin grafts or organ transplants.

(a) Kinetic and geometric parameters relevant for the production of fibers with regular inclusions. (b) Pictures of the collisions observed in the collision plane. The collisions between the droplets and jet1 enable the formation of the liquid drops-in-jet structure, which subsequently solidifies thanks to the supply of cations ensured by the collision with jet2. Credit: Physical Review Applied (2023). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevApplied.19.054006

Replacement for animal testing

Furthermore, apart from its implications in tissue engineering, the faster production method of biocompatible microfibers holds potential in various other applications, such as cell screening. In the near future, extensive testing of new medical agents on cells to determine toxicity levels or efficacy will become more feasible.

The extended fiber length enables the testing of different temperatures or concentrations in a single run. This advancement could significantly reduce the reliance on animal experiments for large-scale testing, thereby offering an ethical alternative.

Carole Planchette emphasizes her fascination with utilizing fundamental aspects of fluid mechanics to uncover innovative solutions for previously unsolved challenges. This approach has paved the way for their manufacturing method, which produces biocompatible microfibers with controlled inclusions at high output and low cost. The resulting possibilities for cell screening, tissue construction, and eventually organ production hold tremendous potential across numerous disciplines. Planchette considers this advancement as a testament to the importance of basic and multidisciplinary research, as it establishes the foundation for groundbreaking applications.

In summary, the accelerated production of biocompatible microfibers not only revolutionizes tissue engineering but also offers opportunities for extensive cell screening, minimizing the need for animal experiments. The innovative nature of this method highlights the significance of fundamental research in driving transformative applications across diverse fields.

Source: Graz University of Technology

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