Engineering anisotropic 3D tubular tissues with flexible thermoresponsive nanofabricated substrates

Nisa P. Williams, Marcus Rhodehamel, Calysta Yan, Alec S.T. Smith, Alex Jiao, Charles E. Murry, Marta Scatena, Deok Ho Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Tissue engineering aims to capture the structural and functional aspects of diverse tissue types in vitro. However, most approaches are limited in their ability to produce complex 3D geometries that are essential for tissue function. Tissues, such as the vasculature or chambers of the heart, often possess curved surfaces and hollow lumens that are difficult to recapitulate given their anisotropic architecture. Cell-sheet engineering techniques using thermoresponsive substrates provide a means to stack individual layers of cells with spatial control to create dense, scaffold-free tissues. In this study, we developed a novel method to fabricate complex 3D structures by layering multiple sheets of aligned cells onto flexible scaffolds and casting them into hollow tubular geometries using custom molds and gelatin hydrogels. To enable the fabrication of 3D tissues, we adapted our previously developed thermoresponsive nanopatterned cell-sheet technology by applying it to flexible substrates that could be folded as a form of tissue origami. We demonstrated the versatile nature of this platform by casting aligned sheets of smooth and cardiac muscle cells circumferentially around the surfaces of gelatin hydrogel tubes with hollow lumens. Additionally, we patterned skeletal muscle in the same fashion to recapitulate the 3D curvature that is observed in the muscles of the trunk. The circumferential cell patterning in each case was maintained after one week in culture and even encouraged organized skeletal myotube formation. Additionally, with the application of electrical field stimulation, skeletal myotubes began to assemble functional sarcomeres that could contract. Cardiac tubes could spontaneously contract and be paced for up to one month. Our flexible cell-sheet engineering approach provides an adaptable method to recapitulate more complex 3D geometries with tissue specific customization through the addition of different cell types, mold shapes, and hydrogels. By enabling the fabrication of scaled biomimetic models of human tissues, this approach could potentially be used to investigate tissue structure-function relationships, development, and maturation in the dish.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number119856
StatePublished - May 2020


  • 3D tissue engineering
  • Cell-sheet engineering
  • Nanofabrication
  • Thermoresponsive polymer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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