Researchers at MIT and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras have developed a 3D-printed microfluidic bioreactor that can be used to culture and study brain organoids. The tiny self-organizing nodules of brain tissue are very useful in studying neurological disease and the effects of drugs. However, the bioreactors used to grow brain organoids can be bulky and costly, and do not always allow for easy viewing of the organoids as they grow. This latest technology aims to provide a low-cost organoid bioreactor using the benefits of 3D printing and microfluidics.
Organoids offer a chance to create ‘mini organs,’ and the medical research opportunities are enormous. However, culturing and studying these structures can pose some serious challenges. Viewing organoids while they are growing may require specialized cell culture equipment, such as expensive glass bottomed plates that are only compatible with specific microscopes.
Moreover, such cultureware is largely suitable only for viewing the organoids, but is not suitable for long-term culture, which may take place in bulky and expensive bioreactors. These devices allow researchers to replace the nutrient medium around the organoids, and allow the medium to flow around the organoids to influence their growth.
Microfluidics may offer smaller, more user-friendly bioreactors, but such devices can be difficult or expensive to produce. This latest device combines the benefits of microfluidics and 3D printing to create a low-cost microfluidic bioreactor that allows researchers to easily view the organoids as they are growing. Each unit costs as little as $5, and they’re reusable.
“Our design costs are significantly lower than traditional petri dish- or spin-bioreactor-based organoid culture products,” said Ikram Khan, a researcher involved in the study, via an American Institute of Physics press release. “In addition, the chip can be washed with distilled water, dried, and autoclaved and is, therefore, reusable.”
The researchers use a biocompatible resin (which is also used in dentistry) as a printed material and UV light to cure the resin before use. The printed bioreactors contain a glass slide above the wells in which the organoids reside so that they can be easily viewed, and inlet ports so that the researchers can add nutrient medium or drugs that are being studied.
The researchers have already been able to successfully culture and observe organoids over extended periods. In fact, the organoids appear to be healthier than those cultured using traditional methods. “One advantage offered by our microfluidic device is that it allows constant perfusion of the culture chamber, which more closely mimics a physiological tissue perfusion than conventional culture, and thus reduces cell death at the organoid core,” said Khan.
Study in Biomicrofluidics: A low-cost 3D printed microfluidic bioreactor and imaging chamber for live-organoid imaging