Postholder insert for the printing of dumbbell-shaped muscle-tendon tissues in a 24-well plate

So many conditions can affect people as they age, and when we think of degenerative diseases, we often think of bone-related conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis, or neurological disorders like Parkinson’s. But degenerative conditions of the muscles and tendons are just as debilitating. As the aging population grows, treatments for these types of diseases are becoming ever more important, but there are complications in developing effective drugs because of the lack of efficient models that show how the drugs react in the body.

Researchers in Switzerland have made a breakthrough in testing these drugs, however, thanks to 3D bioprinting. In a new paper entitled “A Novel Microplate 3D Bioprinting Platform for the Engineering of Muscle and Tendon Tissues,” which you can read here, the researchers explain that 2D cell cultures “do not reflect the in vivo situation,” and so it’s important to develop reliable, robust 3D in vitro models. In the platform they developed, 3D bioprinting is used to automatically produce muscle- and tendon-like tissues.

“With 3D bioprinting, alternating layers of photo-polymerized gelatin-methacryloyl-based bioink and cell suspension tissue models were produced in a dumbbell shape onto novel postholder cell culture inserts in 24-well plates,” the researchers state. “Monocultures of human primary skeletal muscle cells and rat tenocytes were printed around and between the posts. The cells showed high viability in culture and good tissue differentiation, based on marker gene and protein expressions. Different printing patterns of bioink and cells were explored and calcium signaling with Fluo4-loaded cells while electrically stimulated was shown. Finally, controlled co-printing of tenocytes and myoblasts around and between the posts, respectively, was demonstrated followed by co-culture and co-differentiation.”

Bioprinting processes like the one developed by these researchers eliminate the need for animal testing, which is good news on a humane level as well as a practical one – animal tissues do not always respond the same way as human tissues to pharmaceutical testing, which is one reason why so many clinical trials fail. Testing drugs and other treatments on 3D printed human tissue is the next best thing to testing them on actual humans themselves, without the risk that comes from such testing.

“3D bioprinting has a great potential in the engineering of functional 3D tissues in vitro for applications in drug discovery and regenerative medicine,” the researchers state. “We report herein a novel automated 3D bioprinting system for the generation of skeletal muscle and tendon microtissue models in a standard 24-well plate screening format. To our knowledge, this is the first description of a standardized microwell 3D tissue bioprinting platform for drug screening.”

This new system is a promising one for treating degenerative musculoskeletal conditions, which have thus far been difficult to find effective treatments for. It may be a while before such drugs actually hit the market, but this is an important first step toward offering hope to those who suffer from these painful and debilitating diseases.

Authors of the paper include Sandra Laternser, Hansjoerg Keller, Olivier Leupin, Martin Rausch, Ursula Graf-Hausner and Markus Rimann. The paper is available for free here.

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[Images: Zurich University of Applied Sciences]

 

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