Despite the last 60 years have seen major advances in many scientific and technological inputs of drug Research and Development, the number of new molecules hitting the market per billion US dollars of R&D spending has been declined steadily during the same period. The current scenario highlights the need for new research tools to enable reduce costly animal and clinical trials while providing a better prediction about drug efficacy and security in humans A recent emerging approach to improve the current models is emerging from the field of microfluidics, which studies systems that process or manipulate tiny amounts of fluids using channels with dimensions of tens to hundreds of micrometers. Combining microfluidics with cell culture, scientists gave rise to a new field named “Organ-on-chip” (OOC). Microfluidic OOCs are advanced platforms designed to mimic physiological structures and continuous flow conditions, thus allowing the culture of cells in a friendlier microenvironment. This thesis, titled “Cell culture interfaces for different organ-on-chip applications: from photolithography to rapid-prototyping techniques with sensor embedding”, aims to design, simulate and test new OOC devices to reproduce cell culture interface under flow conditions. The work has a focus on the exploration of novel fabrication techniques which enable rapid prototyping of OOC devices, reducing costs, time and human labor associated to the fabrication process. The final objective is to demonstrate the viability of the devices as research tools for biological problems, applying them to the tubular kidney and the blood brain barrier (BBB). To achieve the objective, at least three device version have been developed: 1) OOCv1, fabricated by multilayer PDMS soft lithography; 2) OOCv2, fabricated in thermoplastic by layered object manufacturing using both a vinyl cutter and a laser cutter, integrating standard fluidic connectors alone (OOCv2.1) or together with embedded electrodes (OOCv2.2); 3) OOCv3 using a mixed technique of laser cut and 3D printing by stereolithography. All devices are fabricated using biocompatible materials with high optical quality and an embedded commercial membrane. The biological experiments with renal tubular epithelial cells, realized on OOCv1 and OOCv2.1 devices, demonstrated the viability of the device for culturing cells under flow conditions. The study realized on fatty acid oxidation and accumulation in cells exposed to physiological and diabetogenic oscillating levels of glucose suggest a possible positive role of shear stress in activation of fatty acid metabolism. The studies were performed using a compact experimental unit with embedded flow control which reduce significatively the complexity and cost of the fluidic experimental setup. The biological experiments on the BBB confirmed viability of OOCv2.1 and OOCv2.2 for compartmentalized co-culturing of endothelial cells and pericytes. The formation and recovery of the barrier after disruptive treatment has been assessed using different techniques, including immunostaining, fluorescence and live phase contrast imaging, and electrical impedance spectroscopy. The repeatability of measurements using electrodes was verified. A model to classify measurements from different timepoints has been developed, resulting in accuracy of 100% in learning and 90% in testing case. Results are confirmed by imaging data, which also suggest a critical role of pericytes in the development, maintenance, and regulation of BBB, in accordance with the literature.
The present work addresses two different applications enabled by a specific and useful property of calcium phosphate cements (CPCs): injectability. On the one hand minimally invasive procedures involving the use of CPCs are based on the injectability of such biomaterials, and on the other hand extrusion-based additive manufacturing processes such as robocasting rely on this property to correctly manufacture personalized 3D-printed scaffolds for the treatment of large bone defects. The present thesis is divided in three different sections. The first one consists in a study of the differences of injectability of aqueous pastes of the two allotropic forms of tricalcium phosphate, namely a- and ß-TCP. The reactivity of the powder was shown to play a significant role in the injectability of TCP pastes. Significant differences were observed between the injection behaviour of non-hardening ß-TCP pastes and that of selfhardening a-TCP pastes. The differences were more marked at low liquid-to-powder ratios, using fine powders and injecting through thin needles. Although, as a general trend, faster-setting pastes were less injectable, some exceptions to this rule were found. For example, whereas in the absence of setting accelerants fine TCP powders were more injectable than the coarse ones, in spite of their shorter setting times, this trend was inverted when setting accelerants were added, and coarse powders were more injectable than the fine ones. In the second section thermoresponsive pastes are developed through the combination of CPCs with an inversethermoresponsive hydrogel. Although calcium phosphate cements (CPCs) are used for bone regeneration in a wide range of clinical applications, various physicochemical phenomena are known to hinder their potential use in minimally invasive surgery or in highly vascularized surgical sites, mainly because of their lack of injectability or their low washout resistance. The proposed strategy allowed to finely tune the cohesive and rheological properties of CPCs to achieve clinical acceptable injectability. It avoided phase separation during implantation and improved cohesion, avoiding washout of the paste. Using the knowledge acquired about the injectability behaviour of TCP pastes, the additive manufacturing of 3D printed scaffolds is studied in the last section. More precisely, this study dealt with the robocasting of alpha-tricalcium phosphate/gelatine reactive slurries as a bioinspired self-setting ink for the production of biomimetic hydroxyapatite/gelatine scaffolds. A controlled and totally interconnected pore network of approximately 300 µm was obtained after ink printing and setting, with the struts consisting of a micro/nanoporous matrix of needle-shaped calcium deficient hydroxyapatite crystals, with a high specific surface area. Gelatine was effectively retained by chemical crosslinking. The setting reaction of the ink resulted in a significant increase of both the elastic modulus and the compressive strength of the scaffolds, which were within the range of the human trabecular bone. In addition to delaying the onset of the setting reaction, thus providing enough time for printing, gelatine provided the viscoelastic properties to the strands to support their own weight, and additionally enhanced mesenchymal stem cell adhesion and proliferation on the surface of the scaffold. Altogether this new processing approach opens good perspectives for the design of hydroxyapatite scaffolds for bone tissue engineering with enhanced reactivity and resorption rate.