Scientists have developed a way to recreate complex 3D folded shapes from living tissues, an advance that may help better understand fundamental biology. By patterning mechanically active mouse or human cells to thin layers of extracellular matrix fibres, the researchers could create bowls, coils, and ripples out of living tissue. The cells collaborated mechanically through a web of these fibres to fold themselves up in predictable ways, mimicking natural developmental processes.
“Development is starting to become a canvas for engineering, and by breaking the complexity of development down into simpler engineering principles, scientists are beginning to better understand, and ultimately control, the fundamental biology,” said Zev Gartner, from the University of California, San Francisco in the US. “In this case, the intrinsic ability of mechanically active cells to promote changes in tissue shape is a fantastic chassis for building complex and functional synthetic tissues,” said Gartner.
Labs already use 3D printing or micro-molding to create 3D shapes for tissue engineering, but the final product often misses key structural features of tissues that grow according developmental programs.The Gartner lab’s approach uses a precision 3D cell- patterning technology called DNA-programmed assembly of cells (DPAC) to set up an initial spatial template of a tissue that then folds itself into complex shapes in ways that replicate how tissues assemble themselves hierarchically during development.