Research Highlights

Stretchable Extracellular Matrix Membrane for In Vitro Barrier Models

2022-03-10 37

[A joint research team from POSTECH and UT Austin develops robust and stretchable extracellular matrix (ECM) membrane reinforced by nanofiber scaffolds.]

Animal models are widely used for evaluating a drug in its development stage, but tighter regulations on animal testing and limitations resulting from differences among species are driving the demand for in vitro models. Various methods for fabricating artificial organs are being studied and among them, the organ-on-a-chip technology that grows cells into tissue barriers in vitro is considered important.

ECM, which exists outside the cell, acts as a cushion to protect and fill the space between cells and tissues. ECM is also used when fabricating artificial tissues or organs to induce healthy growth of cells. However, the extracellular matrix (ECM) derived membrane is usually vulnerable to external environmental factors, rendering it unsuitable to be used for long-term cell growth or native organ-like cyclic stretching motions in the organ-on-a-chip system.

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To this, a joint research team led by Professor Dong Sung Kim, Ph.D. candidate Jaeseung Youn, and Dr. Hyeonjun Hong (Department of Mechanical Engineering) at POSTECH, in collaboration with Professor Hyun Jung Kim of University of Texas at Austin has developed a robust and stretchable ECM hydrogel-based membrane.

Recognized for its potential to improve the performance of the organ-on-a-chip technology, this study has recently been featured in Biofabrication.

To overcome this issue, the researchers fabricated a robust ECM membrane reinforced by nanofiber scaffolds, mimicking the characteristics of the native basement membranes (BMs). This membrane, with small thickness of less than 5μm, is highly permeable and maintains stable structure even over two weeks of cell culture periods. Its stretchability enables it to emulate the native cyclic stretching motions of an actual organ and mimic its cell and tissue-level functions.

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This new nanofiber-reinforced ECM (NaRE) membrane will contribute to fabricating sophisticated artificial organs to be applicable in basic science research, cosmetics and new drug development, and tissue engineering.

This study was conducted with the support from the Mid-Career Researcher Program of that National Research Foundation of Korea.