Researchers Develop Artificial Tissue Capable of Synchronized Beating

A team of University of Bristol chemists has recently developed a tissue-like material that is capable of synchronized beating when heated and cooled. Published in Nature Materials and funded by NSERC Canada and EU Horizon 2020 grants, this study marks the first chemically programmed approach at creating artificial tissues. These findings could indicate future use of chemically programmed synthetic tissues in treatment of defective living tissue and curing diseases, an achievement that would have large-scale applications in healthcare.

Researchers have been pursuing the development of artificial tissue that can mimic cell functions such as beating and detoxification for years, and this advancement from the University of Bristol marks a milestone in achieving this goal.

Led by Professor Stephen Mann FRS and Dr. Pierangelo Gobbo from Bristol’s School of Chemistry, the team manufactured chemically programmed synthetic cells called protocells that interact and communicate with one another in a coordinated fashion. The team created two types of artificial cells, each with a protein-polymer membrane and complementary surface anchoring groups. The team then coalesced a mixture of adhesive cells into chemically-linked masses to yield self-sufficient synthetic tissue clusters. A contractile polymer capable of expanding and contracting as temperature was adjusted higher or lower than 37 ⁰C was coupled with this artificial cell matrix to allow the synthetic tissue to sustain rhythmic oscillations in size.

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Artificial tissue functionality was increased by isolating enzymes with their component artificial cells. Varying enzyme combination, the researchers were able to modify the amplitude of the beating and regulate chemical signal movement in and out of the synthetic tissues.


“Our approach to the rational design and fabrication of prototissues bridges an important gap in bottom-up synthetic biology and should also contribute to the development of new bioinspired materials that work at the interface between living tissues and their synthetic counterparts,” stated Professor Stephen Mann FRS, author of the study.

In the abstract of their publication, the authors note that their research aimed to address the lack of coordinated activity between artificially created cells. Though several synthetic cell-like structures have been created, none have been able to integrate intercellular interaction in a synthetic tissue format.

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Touching on this breakthrough, study co-leader Dr. Pierangelo Gobbo said: “Our methodology opens up a route from the synthetic construction of individual protocells to the co-assembly and spatial integration of multi-protocellular structures. In this way, we can combine the specialization of individual protocell types with the collective properties of the ensemble.”

Sources: Nature Materials, Bristol