Engineered tissue models find their application in studying normal and pathological tissue development and the associated testing of potential therapies. In addition, they provide powerful tools for technology development for regenerative medicine and optimization of regenerative therapies. We have developed a range of ‘humanized’ engineered cardiovascular model systems – consisting of engineered tissue, (hemo)dynamic loading platforms, and readouts of tissue development and mechanical function – for the optimization of in-vitro and in-situ tissue engineering strategies of heart valves and vessels. The model systems can be adapted to simulate either healthy or diseased tissue development or healthy and diseased loading environments (e.g. high blood pressure). A first range of systems consists of cardiovascular tissues (strips or cross-shaped morphology, mm range), engineered from human myofibroblasts seeded on natural (fibrin) or synthetic (PGA) degradable polymer scaffolds, and loaded in series on an adapted Flexcell device to study the mechanobiology of collagen remodeling of engineered tissue. Vital collagen imaging (CNA35) and on-line assessment of structure-function properties indicated that stochastic rather than cyclic loading of the strips resulted in increased collagen formation, organization and tissue strength. A change of loading direction resulted in complete tissue remodeling with collagen re-orientation within 48 hours. Currently, we are using the systems to investigate the pathomorphogenesis of radiation-induced fibrosis of heart valve tissue. A second system consists of a microfluidics-based setup to study circulating cell recruitment, migration and differentiation in small 3D electrospun PCL scaffolds under physiological hemodynamic loading conditions as a model of in-situ regeneration. The system is mounted onto the stage of an inverted confocal microscope to follow cell fate and tissue development in real-time. By changing the architecture, bioactivity and mechanical properties of the scaffold, the effects of these parameters on in-situ tissue formation can be assessed. Circulating cell suspensions of changing composition/activation as well as changing hemodynamic loading conditions will be used to mimic healthy/diseased conditions and to investigate their effects on in-situ tissue regeneration. These studies demonstrate the use of versatile experimental model approaches to provide detailed insight into tissue (patho)morphogenesis, adaptation and regeneration in a real-time and high-throughput fashion.


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  • Accepted: 31 May 2012
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