With increasing life expectancies across much of the globe, the need for medication and treatments for age-related degenerative muscle and tendon diseases is growing. And though much research is being done on that front, medical scientists have faced consistent challenges in developing effective drugs for muscle degeneration. Fortunately, a team of researchers in Switzerland is conducting microplate bioprinting research that could offer a solution to one of the main challenges in developing treatments.
This main challenge is caused by the lack of functional in vitro assays for compound screening, which makes it difficult to develop efficient drugs and treatment methods for skeletal muscle problems and, specifically, age-related degenerative muscle diseases. As the Swiss researchers explain in their study’s abstract: “Two-dimensional (2D) cell cultures do not reflect the in vivo situation, and thus it is important to develop predictive three-dimensional (3D) in vitro models with enhanced reliability and robustness for drug screening applications.”
The researchers have thus developed a novel screening platform which relies on 3D bioprinting to overcome this limitation. The screening platform offers the automated bioprinting of 3D muscle- and tendon-like tissues. But it’s not just the bioprinting aspect that is innovative, as the team has combined the automated tissue bioprinting with a microwell plate configuration for addressing the specific tissue attachment requirements.
The screening platform enables the researchers to bioprint muscle and tendon tissue models through the deposition of alternating layers of photo-polymerized gelatin-methacryloyl-based bioink and cell suspensions. The muscle and tendon tissue models are achieved by printing these layers in a dumbbell structure and onto a newly designed cell culture inserted in 24-well plates with two vertical posts.
The study has shown positive results for the screening platform and reports that the cells have shown high viability after printing in culture and have demonstrated good tissue differentiation based on market gene and protein expressions. Overall, the bioprinting-based process offers a “promising new tool for musculoskeletal drug discovery and development.”
The researchers also add that the bioprinted muscle tissue models have displayed good functionality through calcium signaling of Fluo4-loaded cells and myofiber contractility induced by electrical pulse stimulation. They have also managed to bioprint tendon-muscle-tendon co-cultures with success by depositing tenocytes (tendon cells) around the posts of the cell culture inserts and myoblasts (muscle cells) between the posts.
The innovative bioprinting research, authored by Sandra Laternser, Hansjoerg Keller, Olivier Leupin and others, was recently published in the journal SLAS Technology.