Alexander Gumennik, an assistant professor of intelligent systems engineering at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has received a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the Trophowell platform, which tests cell response to biochemical agents.
The cost-effective platform is used for tissue engineering, drug discovery, and patient-personalized medicine.
The Trophowell platform is an alternative to animal testing. It uses stem cells from patients to grow cultures that can be used to test drugs.
Gumennik said the Trophowell platform was initially developed as a test platform for a more complex concept: to create a fiber -- a microtube with micro holes poked in it -- that would be incorporated into a bioprinting process of biosynthetic tissues. It would be used to stream from within cells and nutrients to grow a vasculature inside the biosynthetic tissue pervaded by such microtubes.
“Vascularization of bio-printed tissue is a big problem because the resolution of extrusion-based bioprinting, which is a common approach, is too coarse to create such miniature structures,” Gumennik said. “On the other hand, vasculature is absolutely needed to begin creating an immune system because immune response vehicles, such as t-cells, need vasculature to get delivered to the tissue in the bloodstream. To behave realistically and survive, it must have an immune response if you want to use an engineered tissue for wound infill, organ replacement, or even drug and toxicity research.”
The big question, he added, is how much spacing between the vasculature-creating fibers inside the bioprint is needed to create a vasculature that is not too dense, so that there is enough room for the matrix tissue in between, but also not too sparse, so no matrix tissue is deprived of oxygen and nutrients.
Trophowell answers that question by putting into the well a precursor for the engineered tissue and sticking in a capillary that delivers the building blocks for the vasculature into one port, and a capillary with a signaling agent that tells the vessel which direction to grow -- into the other port. Closing the gap between the two capillary outlets causes the vessel-building cells to sense the signaling agent and start self-organizing on the tip of the first capillary into a tube extending towards the second capillary.
“The largest distance at which this starts happening at a reasonable rate is the optimal spacing you are looking for,” Gumennik said.
A different patent application for this complex technology is still pending.
This has been an ongoing research project. The Trophowell platform won the 2019 Cheng Wu Innovation Challenge. That team was led by Luddy Intelligent Systems Engineering Ph.D. students Louis van der Elst and Merve Gokce. They were part of the Fibers and Additive Manufacturing Enabled Systems Laboratory (FAMES Lab), directed by Gumennik.
The Cheng Wu Innovation Challenge is an annual competition that encourages IU Bloomington students to use technology in innovative ways to address compelling problems.