Bioengineered cell walls open new medical, research possibilities | 3/12/2019 | Staff
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Biomedical engineers at Penn State have developed a process to build protective, synthetic plant cell walls around animal cells. The work, published in Nature Communications, could hold significant potential for a variety of medical and biomanufacturing applications for human health.

Plant cells are individually encased in ultrathin cell walls that maintain the cell's structure and protect the cell's inner organelles from environmental assaults such as heat and shear stress. Human and other mammalian cells don't have this exterior wall, leaving them vulnerable to damage or destruction. By creating a cell wall made of biomimetic materials—synthetic materials that mimic biology—researchers can protect human cells for use in vitro cell therapy to treat disease and in bioprinting.

Techniques - Encapsulation - Cells - Laboratory - Setting

While some techniques, such as hydrogel encapsulation, currently exist to help protect mammalian cells in the laboratory setting, they are thick and limit nutrient and oxygen access, limiting cell survival. According to Yong Wang, professor of biomedical engineering and principal investigator on the study, this problem of how to better protect cells has been studied for half a century. While many researchers have tried various methods, Wang's approach is novel.

"No one has ever built up a nanoscale material that can really mimic the structure and functions of plant cell walls; our concept is completely new," Wang said.

Cell - Walls - BCWs - Material - Mimics

Called biomimetic cell walls (BCWs), this nanoscale material mimics the structural strength and functions of plant cell walls. Wang compared the process of creating BCWs to building a house. A foundation is laid before the framework can be erected. Once the framework is up, the floors and ceilings must be finished.

"Similarly, we synthesize BCWs with a framing template and, based on the framing template, we build up a crosslinked matrix," Wang said. "The framing templates are like wooden beams, and the crosslinked matrices are like drywall."

Framing - Template - Supramolecular

The framing template is actually a supramolecular...
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