In an effort to develop a biological model for researching the effects of diseases on human capillaries, a collaborative team from the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the UW Medicine Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (all WA, USA) has engineered a capillary system by bioprinting vessels 100 micrometers in diameter, engraved in a collagen base.
The research, published in Science Advances, describes how the model was initially used to study how severe malaria infections cause red blood cells to become ‘stuck’ in blood microvessels, eventually leading to blockages in areas of narrow blood-flow.
The 3D engineered microvessel resembled an hourglass which allowed scientists to carefully analyze how red blood cells navigate tight bottlenecks. Normally, red blood cells can contort themselves to fit through tight spaces, but cells infected with malaria change their morphology to be more rigid and ‘knobby’, increasing their risk of becoming trapped, accumulating and forming a blockage.
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The team did acknowledge the limitations of utilizing a model based on cells from larger vessels and that studying single-cell dynamics is challenging due to imprecise flow control, but they hope that following a few modifications, their model could be used to assist future work in combatting blood-stage malaria.
Aside from studying the effect of malaria on human capillaries, the team also claim that their capillary system may be applied to studying other diseases capable of causing damage or blockage to smaller vessels, including diabetes, sickle cell anemia and cardiovascular disorders.
The team further reports that their system may be applied to the engineering of microcirculation for regenerative approaches to stem cell therapies and laboratory-grown organs.
Sources: Arakawa C, Gunnarsson C, Howard C et al. Biophysical and biomolecular interactions of malaria-infected erythrocytes in engineered human capillaries. Sci. Adv. 6(3) eaay7243 (2020); https://newsroom.uw.edu/news/engineered-capillaries-model-traffic-tiny-blood-vessels