Super resolution cell layering is a step towards lab-grown tissue

A microscopic rainbow created using ultra-thin layers of human cells and the new RIFLE biofabrication technology. Each of the dots is a red, green or blue cell that has been assembled, layer by layer, into bands of colour. Credit: Ian Holland

Innovative technology, produced in research involving the University of Strathclyde, can arrange human cells into extremely thin layers could boost the development of lifelike layered human tissue, such as blood vessels, in the lab.

The technique enables the construction of separate cell layers down to one cell thick. Experts believe this level of detail is crucial to developing accurate models of layered human tissue for use in research.

Developed in a study led at the University of Edinburgh, the technique, known as RIFLE (rotational internal flow layer engineering), is a low-cost and fast biofabrication method, which can work to a very small scale.

Layered tissue is found throughout the body, in blood vessels, the skin and other organs. It can feature multiple cell types, generating layers with different properties and functions.

Current methods used to manufacture human tissue in the lab – known as biofabrication – can lack the detail needed to mimic this complex structure.

Cellular rainbow

The new technique involves injecting a small volume of liquid containing cells into a tube rotating at high speeds of up to 9000rpm. The speed of the rotation causes the cells to distribute evenly across the internal surface of the tube – with higher speeds resulting in thinner layers.

When this process is repeated, it builds up cell layers to create a tubular structure made of different, distinct layers, with a high density of cells. The potential of the technology is exemplified in the creation of a spectacular human cellular rainbow.

The lead team were able to demonstrate the technology by manufacturing tissue which mimics the ultra-thin layers seen in a human blood vessel. They are now exploring use of the technology to develop a range of layered tissue. If successful, the ability to economically create layered tissue in the lab could offer an important alternative to the use of animal models for research.

The study has been published in the journal Biofabrication and has been supported by EU Horizon 2020, EPSRC, BBSRC and WT iTPA funding.

Professor Will Shu, Hay Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Strathclyde, was a partner in the study. He said: “We are truly excited about the immense potential of this ground-breaking bioprinting technology. Its ability to precisely position high-density live cells in a 3D matrix is a remarkable advancement in the field of bioengineering.

“This brings us one step closer towards the creation of bioengineered blood vessels that would save lives.”