In a recent study, published in journal of the American Chemical Society, scientists have developed an innovative device that can alter the shape and size of a block of gel-like material on which bacterial or human cells were growing. According to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin who have created the new shrink ray, it could be promising for scientists to understand the ways to grow replacement tissues and organs for implants.
Co-inventor and Chemistry professor Jason B. Shear said that scientists would want dynamically re-shapeable materials in the future to understand how cells respond to the physical properties of their environment.
By controlling precisely which interior parts of the material shrink, the device could change shape and texture of the hydrogel surface; it enabled the researchers to develop particular 3D features including grooves, bumps, and rings. Over time, they could also change the shapes and location of surface features by mimicking vital nature of the environment in which cells typically grow, live, and locomote.
The near-infrared laser-based shrink ray can focus onto minute points inside the substrate which behaves and looks like a Jell-O pad, and on microscopic level, it is made of proteins jumbled and intertwined.
When the laser hits a point within the substrate, new chemical bonds appear to form between the proteins which draws them more tightly. As a result, surface of the substrate gets tugged on from below and alters the shape. The researchers, then, scanned the laser through a series of points within the substrate to create any desirable contour on the surface at any place linked to the targeted cells.
Although there have been methods to alter the surface to change the substrate under living cells, it would cause the cells to unstick from the surface or damage them. The new tool, however, enables the formation of any desirable 3D pattern while observing the living cells through a microscope.
According to the research team, the tool can further be used to explore fundamental scientific question regarding cellular growth and migration. It would lead to more procedures and materials that could promote wound healing and nerve regrowth. The new tool is also capable of assisting growth and implantation of replacement tissues like heart valves and skin.
Mr. Shear explained that it is important to understand the environment to get tissues to grow in a dish that will be effective once implanted, then better mimic that environment in which they typically advance in our own bodies.