Stars, diamonds, circles.
Rather than your average bowl of Lucky Charms, these are three-dimensional cell cultures generated by an exciting new digital microfluidics platform, the results of which have been published in Nature Communications this week by researchers at the University of Toronto. The tool, which can be used to study cells in cost-efficient, three-dimensional microgels, may hold the key to personalized medicine applications in the future.
"We already know that the microenvironment can greatly influence cell fate," says Irwin A. Eydelnant, recent doctoral graduate from IBBME and first author of the publication. "The important part of this study is that we've developed a tool that will allow us to investigate the sensitivity of cells to their 3D environment."
"Everyone wants to do three-dimensional (3D) cell culture," explains Aaron Wheeler, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry at the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME), the Department of Chemistry, and the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research (DCCBR) at the University of Toronto. "Cells grown in this manner share much more in common with living systems than the standard two-dimensional (2D) cell culture format," says Wheeler, corresponding author of the study.
But more naturalistic, 3D cell cultures are a challenge to grow. "The reagents are expensive, the materials are inconvenient for automation, and 3D matrices break down upon repeated handling," explains Wheeler, who was named an Inventor of the Year by the University of Toronto in 2012.
Eydelnant was able to address these difficulties by adapting a digital microfluidics platform first created in the Wheeler lab. Cells, caught up in a hydrogel material, are gently flowed across a small field that, on a screen, looks much like a tiny chessboard. The cells are strategically manipulated by a small electric field across a cutout shape on the top plate of the system, made from indium in oxide, and become fixed.
"When we grew kidney cells in these microgels, the cultures formed hollow sphere structures resembling primitive kidneys within four or five days," Eydelnant claims.
The tool allows a great deal of flexibility in terms of the number of different kinds of cells that can be incorporated into the shapes, as well as the shapes and size of the microenvironments: whimsical, like the stars, diamond and circles of Lucky Charms, or designed to mimic living 3D niches, offering researchers a glimpse into how these factors all affect cell fate decisions.
What's more, according to Eydelnant, the platform permits researchers to run, "32 experiments at the same time, automatically, and all on something the size of a credit card."
"[This new] system allows for hands-free assembly of sub-microlitre, three-dimensional microgels. Each gel is individually addressable, fluid exchange is gentler than macro-scale alternatives, and reagent use is reduced more than 100-fold," Wheeler says.
"We believe that this new tool will make 3D cell culture a more attractive and accessible format for cell biology research," he adds.
Although the researchers can foresee numerous possible applications for this platform, the team is "particularly excited" about its potential for personalized medicine.
Wheeler argues, "We may be able to collect small tissue samples from patients, distribute them into 3D gels on digital microfluidic devices, and screen for conditions to identify individually tailored therapies. This is in the 'dream' stages for now, but we think the methods described here will be useful for these types of applications in the future."
Erin Vollick | EurekAlert!
New study reveals what's behind a tarantula's blue hue
01.12.2015 | University of California - San Diego
Tracing a path toward neuronal cell death
01.12.2015 | Brigham and Women's Hospital
Chemical weathering of rocks over geological time scales is an important control on the stability of the climate. This weathering is, in turn, highly dependent...
Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.
The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...
Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.
Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.
In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...
01.12.2015 | Event News
30.11.2015 | Event News
25.11.2015 | Event News
01.12.2015 | Earth Sciences
01.12.2015 | Life Sciences
01.12.2015 | Earth Sciences