Stacked Cell Culture Platform: A Step Closer to Biologically Relevant in vitro Studies 

6.9.2022/Text: Diosangeles Soto Veliz

Diosangeles Soto Veliz

Traditional cell culture platforms consist mostly of flat plastic surfaces. However, the real cellular environment is far from uniform. Cells grow naturally on various kind of surfaces: smooth, fibrous, soft, hard, porous, and all kinds of variations found in body tissues. Therefore, often, there is large gap between in vitro and in vivo studies leading to, for example, delays and failures during drug discovery and development.

One solution is to recreate the native cellular environment through biomaterial sciences to improve the biological relevance of basic research. The challenge is that commercially available platforms are not compatible to most coating and printing techniques, hereby limiting the possibilities for customisation.

What is the stacked cell culture platform?

The stacked cell culture platform consists in a sandwich-like structure to grow cells in vitro. It is made of layers of flexible films that can be easily coated and/or printed prior to cell culture. The top and bottom layers have printed hydrophobic boundaries to restrain the liquid into wells, while the middle layers provide support and lateral access to the cells. Here, cells can grow attached to the bottom or top layer of the device or suspended in the media in between.

What are the advantages this approach?

With this device, it is possible to grow cells directly on the coated/printed film. Alternatively, cells can grow on the bottom film, while the coated/printed film placed at the top slowly releases ions, molecules or particles to the liquid shared with the cells. Therefore, providing various methods of interaction.

The device is very convenient to use and most importantly, it can be customised for each experiment. The manufacture is as simple as to design the layers, print the hydrophobic boundaries, cut the layers, sterilise, assemble, and use. This can be achieved manually in any laboratory with access to a wax printer, and a desktop cutter. Alternatively, it can also be scaled up for mass production due to the compatibility with converting techniques. However, the real potential is in the customisation and possible applications.

What’s next?

Currently the stacked platform is used to assess the influence of mineral coatings on cell behaviour. It is also been used to test high- and low-resolution printing techniques for fibroblast alignment.

In the future, the intention is to functionalise biomaterials prior to coating for controlled drug-release to the cellular environment. Also, to modify the device to manipulate air or liquid flow through the inner layers. And why not? With a few improvements, the device will be able to support and introduce external stimulation or electrochemical detection through sensors.

All in all, the stacked cell culture platform represents a low-cost, customisable and versatile alternative whenever compatibility to coating and printing techniques is required. The device, at this moment, is only but a prototype of more sophisticated versions to come.

Diosangeles Soto Veliz is a researcher in Åbo Akademi. She received an ecouragement grant from the Finnish Foundation for Technology Promotion in 2019.

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