Scientists Use Magnetic Levitation to Grow Lung Tissue
ELEVATING SCIENCE TO A NEW LEVEL—Scientists from Rice University and the Rice spinoff company Nano3D Biosciences use magnetic levitation to grow realistic lung tissue in the lab. From left are Glauco Souza, Ph.D.; Jacob Gage; Tom Killian, Ph.D.; Jane Grande-Allen, Ph.D.; and Hubert Tseng. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)
In a development that could lead to faster and more effective toxicity tests for airborne chemicals, scientists from Rice University and the Rice spinoff company Nano3D Biosciences have used magnetic levitation to grow some of the most realistic lung tissue ever produced in a laboratory.
The researchers combined four types of cells to replicate tissue from the wall of the bronchiole deep inside the lung. Their research is part of an international trend in biomedical engineering to create laboratory techniques for growing tissues that are virtually identical to those found in people’s bodies.
An article about their achievement is available online and will appear in a future issue of the journal Tissue Engineering Part C: Methods.
Study co-author Tom Killian, Ph.D., who chairs the physics and astronomy department at Rice, helped create the levitation technology which uses magnetism to levitate and grow 3-D cell cultures. The technology relies on inert, nontoxic magnetic nanoparticles that are inserted into living cells. Researchers can then use magnets to lift and suspend the cells as they grow and divide.
To further this technology which they pioneered, Killian and fellow scientists from Rice and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center co-founded Nano3D Biosciences.
“One of the unique things about the magnetic levitation technology is that it allows us to move cells around, and arrange them the way that we want to create a particular type of tissue,” said Killian. “We are the first to arrange four types of cells – endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells, fibroblasts and epithelial cells – to create four-layered lung tissue, which is virtually the same as the lung tissue in the human body.”
Levitation also allows scientists to levitate the bronchiole tissue to the level of air-liquid interface so that the epithelial layer of tissue is exposed to airborne toxins, just as it would occur in the lungs, said Glauco Souza, Ph.D., chief scientific officer and co-founder of Nano3D Biosciences. Exposing the tissue in this way allows scientists to test for air toxins in the lungs, Souza said.
“With traditional 2-D cultures grown in a flat petri dish, it is very difficult to culture cells at the air-liquid interface, which is what you’d prefer for toxicity testing,” he said.
In the meantime, study co-author Jane Grande-Allen, Ph.D., professor of bioengineering at Rice, said other members of her group have already used the same methods pioneered in the bronchiole study to produce heart valve tissue.
The National Science Foundation has awarded Nano3D Biosciences funding to further develop the levitation technique for other types of tissue.