[Tourovskaia A, Fauver M, Kramer G, Simonson S, Neumann T. Tissue-engineered microenvironment systems for modeling human vasculature. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2014 Sep;239(9):1264-71.]
The high attrition rate of drug candidates late in the development process has led to an increasing demand for test assays that predict clinical outcome better than conventional 2D cell culture systems and animal models. Government agencies, the military, and the pharmaceutical industry have started initiatives for the development of novel in-vitro systems that recapitulate functional units of human tissues and organs. There is growing evidence that 3D cell arrangement, co-culture of different cell types, and physico-chemical cues lead to improved predictive power. A key element of all tissue microenvironments is the vasculature. Beyond transporting blood the microvasculature assumes important organ-specific functions. It is also involved in pathologic conditions, such as inflammation, tumor growth, metastasis, and degenerative diseases. To provide a tool for modeling this important feature of human tissue microenvironments, we developed a microfluidic chip for creating tissue-engineered microenvironment systems (TEMS) composed of tubular cell structures. Our chip design encompasses a small chamber that is filled with an extracellular matrix (ECM) surrounding one or more tubular channels. Endothelial cells (ECs) seeded into the channels adhere to the ECM walls and grow into perfusable tubular tissue structures that are fluidically connected to upstream and downstream fluid channels in the chip. Using these chips we created models of angiogenesis, the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and tumor-cell extravasation. Our angiogenesis model recapitulates true angiogenesis, in which sprouting occurs from a “parent” vessel in response to a gradient of growth factors. Our BBB model is composed of a microvessel generated from brain-specific ECs within an ECM populated with astrocytes and pericytes. Our tumor-cell extravasation model can be utilized to visualize and measure tumor-cell migration through vessel walls into the surrounding matrix. The described technology can be used to create TEMS that recapitulate structural, functional, and physico-chemical elements of vascularized human tissue microenvironments in vitro.