Highlights in Chemical Biology

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Microfibres pure enough for the liver

15 March 2010

A research group in Korea have developed a method to engineer artificial liver tissue using microfluidics. 

The liver is one of the most important organs in the human body. It is estimated to have more than 500 functions, including neutralising and destroying drugs and toxins, and converting food into energy. Transplants are the only way to compensate if the liver fails, therefore research is being carried out to develop a method to create artificial 3D liver tissues which can regulate specific functions. 

Chitosan is a natural polymer with a similar structure to the components found in the liver's extracellular matrix and has been widely used for liver tissue engineering. But it's mechanical weakness limits control of the shape and size of the tissue scaffold. Techniques such as electrospinning have been used previously but do not allow the nanofibres to be aligned in the same direction. Now, a team led by Sang-Hoon Lee at Korea University in Seoul, have developed a microfluidic method to allow thin, pure chitosan fibres to be prepared continuously without breaking. 

HepG2 liver cells on pure-chitosan fibres

Chitosan microfibers act as a scaffold for liver cells

Using this method, the team has been able to create a bio-artificial liver chip by culturing HepG2 liver cells on the pure-chitosan fibres. Tests show that vital liver functions including enzyme secretion and urea synthesis were carried out by the cells on the chip, says Lee. This research 'will play a key role to enhance bioartificial liver study,' he adds. 

'This is a highly interesting approach,' comments Ali Khademhosseini, an expert in generating tissue-engineered organs at Harvard University, Cambridge, US. 'The creation of appropriate cell-cell interactions is particularly important for the function of liver tissue and the microfibers generated here provide a useful method of inducing cells to recreate these interactions.' 

Following these promising results, Lee intends to optimise the process, to improve handling of the fibres, and use animal models to demonstrate application of the novel liver support.

Harriet Teare 


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Link to journal article

Microfluidic synthesis of pure chitosan microfibers for bio-artificial liver chip
Kwang Ho Lee, Su Jung Shin, Chang-Beom Kim, Jung Kyung Kim, Yong Woo Cho, Bong Geun Chung and Sang-Hoon Lee, Lab Chip, 2010, 10, 1328
DOI: 10.1039/b924987g

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