Natural cellular microenvironment consists of spatiotemporal gradients of multiple physical (e.g. extracellular matrix stiffness, porosity and stress/strain) and chemical cues (e.g. morphogens), which play important roles in regulating cell behaviors including spreading, proliferation, migration, differentiation and apoptosis, especially for pathological processes such as tumor formation and progression. Therefore, it is essential to engineer cellular gradient microenvironment incorporating various gradients for the fabrication of normal and pathological tissue models in vitro. In this article, we firstly review the development of engineering cellular physical and chemical gradients with cytocompatible hydrogels in both two-dimension and three-dimension formats. We then present current advances in the application of engineered gradient microenvironments for the fabrication of disease models in vitro. Finally, concluding remarks and future perspectives for engineering cellular gradients are given.
Diabetes now is the most common chronic disease in the world inducing heavy burden for the people's health. Based on this, diabetes research such as islet function has become a hot topic in medical institutes of the world. Today, in medical institutes, the conventional experiment platform in vitro is monolayer cell culture. However, with the development of micro- and nano-technologies, several microengineering methods have been developed to fabricate three-dimensional (3D) islet models in vitro which can better mimic the islet of pancreases in vivo. These in vitro islet models have shown better cell function than monolayer cells, indicating their great potential as better experimental platforms to elucidate islet behaviors under both physiological and pathological conditions, such as the molecular mechanisms of diabetes and clinical islet transplantation. In this review, we present the state-of-the-art advances in the microengineering methods for fabricating microscale islet models in vitro. We hope this will help researchers to better understand the progress in the engineering 3D islet models and their biomedical applications such as drug screening and islet transplantation.
Advanced diagnostic technologies, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), have been widely used in well-equipped laboratories. However, they are not affordable or accessible in resource-limited settings due to the lack of basic infrastructure and/or trained operators. Paper-based diagnostic technologies are affordable, user-friendly, rapid, robust, and scalable for manufacturing, thus holding great potential to deliver point-of-care (POC) diagnostics to resource-limited settings. In this review, we present the working principles and reaction mechanism of paper-based diagnostics, including dipstick assays, lateral flow assays (LFAs), and microfluidic paper-based analytical devices (μPADs), as well as the selection of substrates and fabrication methods. Further, we report the advances in improving detection sensitivity, quantification readout, procedure simplification and multi-functionalization of paper-based diagnostics, and discuss the disadvantages of paper-based diagnostics. We envision that miniaturized and integrated paper-based diagnostic devices with the sample-in-answer-out capability will meet the diverse requirements for diagnosis and treatment monitoring at the POC.
Lateral flow assays (LFAs) have been extensively explored in nucleic acid testing (NAT) for medical diagnostics, food safety analysis and environmental monitoring. However, the amount of target nucleic acid in a raw sample is usually too low to be directly detected by LFAs, necessitating the process of amplification. Even though cost-effective paper-based amplification techniques have been introduced, they have always been separately performed from LFAs, hence increasing the risk of reagent loss and cross-contaminations. To date, integrating paper-based nucleic acid amplification into colorimetric LFA in a simple, portable and cost-effective manner has not been introduced. Herein, we developed an integrated LFA with the aid of a specially designed handheld battery-powered system for effective amplification and detection of targets in resource-poor settings. Interestingly, using the integrated paper-based loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP)-LFA, we successfully performed highly sensitive and specific target detection, achieving a detection limit of as low as 3 × 10(3) copies of target DNA, which is comparable to the conventional tube-based LAMP-LFA in an unintegrated format. The device may serve in conjunction with a simple paper-based sample preparation to create a fully integrated paper-based sample-to-answer diagnostic device for point-of-care testing (POCT) in the near future.
Dengue endemic is a serious healthcare concern in tropical and subtropical countries. Although well-established laboratory tests can provide early diagnosis of acute dengue infections, access to these tests is limited in developing countries, presenting an urgent need to develop simple, rapid, and robust diagnostic tools. Point-of-care (POC) devices, particularly paper-based POC devices, are typically rapid, cost-effective and user-friendly, and they can be used as diagnostic tools for the prompt diagnosis of dengue at POC settings. Here, we review the importance of rapid dengue diagnosis, current dengue diagnostic methods, and the development of paper-based POC devices for diagnosis of dengue infections at the POC.
Lateral flow assays (LFAs) have currently attracted broad interest for point-of-care (POC) diagnostics, but their application has been restricted by poor quantification and limited sensitivity. While the former has been currently solved to some extent by the development of handheld or smartphone-based readers, the latter has not been addressed fully, particularly the potential influences of environmental conditions (e.g., temperature and relative humidity (RH)), which have not yet received serious attention. The present study reports the use of a portable temperature-humidity control device to provide an optimum environmental requirement for sensitivity improvement in LFAs, followed by quantification by using a smartphone. We found that a RH beyond 60% with temperatures of 55-60°C and 37-40°C produced optimum nucleic acid hybridization and antigen-antibody interaction in LFAs, respectively representing a 10-fold and 3-fold signal enhancement over ambient conditions (25°C, 60% RH). We envision that in the future the portable device could be coupled with a fully integrated paper-based sample-to-answer biosensor for sensitive detection of various target analytes in POC settings.
The σ(S) subunit RpoS of RNA polymerase functions as a master regulator of the general stress response in Escherichia coli and related bacteria. RpoS has been reported to modulate biocontrol properties in the rhizobacterium Serratia plymuthica IC1270. However, the role of RpoS in the stress response and biofilm formation in S. plymuthica remains largely unknown. Here we studied the role of RpoS from an endophytic S. plymuthica G3 in regulating these phenotypes. Mutational analysis demonstrated that RpoS positively regulates the global stress response to acid or alkaline stresses, oxidative stress, hyperosmolarity, heat shock and carbon starvation, in addition to proteolytic and chitinolytic activities. Interestingly, rpoS mutations resulted in significantly enhanced swimming motility, biofilm formation and production of the plant auxin indole-3-acetic acid (IAA), which may contribute to competitive colonization and environmental fitness for survival. These findings provide further insight into the strain-specific role of RpoS in the endophytic strain G3 of S. plymuthica, where it confers resistance to general stresses encountered within the plant environment. The heterogeneous functionality of RpoS in rhizosphere and endophytic S. plymuthica populations may provide a selective advantage for better adaptation to various physiological and environmental stresses.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) hold many advantages over embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and other somatic cells in clinical applications. MSCs are multipotent cells with strong immunosuppressive properties. They can be harvested from various locations in the human body (e.g., bone marrow and adipose tissues). Cryopreservation represents an efficient method for the preservation and pooling of MSCs, to obtain the cell counts required for clinical applications, such as cell-based therapies and regenerative medicine. Upon cryopreservation, it is important to preserve MSCs functional properties including immunomodulatory properties and multilineage differentiation ability. Further, a biosafety evaluation of cryopreserved MSCs is essential prior to their clinical applications. However, the existing cryopreservation methods for MSCs are associated with notable limitations, leading to a need for new or improved methods to be established for a more efficient application of cryopreserved MSCs in stem cell-based therapies. We review the important parameters for cryopreservation of MSCs and the existing cryopreservation methods for MSCs. Further, we also discuss the challenges to be addressed in order to preserve MSCs effectively for clinical applications.
Cardiac myofibroblast differentiation, as one of the most important cellular responses to heart injury, plays a critical role in cardiac remodeling and failure. While biochemical cues for this have been extensively investigated, the role of mechanical cues, e.g., extracellular matrix stiffness and mechanical strain, has also been found to mediate cardiac myofibroblast differentiation. Cardiac fibroblasts in vivo are typically subjected to a specific spatiotemporally changed mechanical microenvironment. When exposed to abnormal mechanical conditions (e.g., increased extracellular matrix stiffness or strain), cardiac fibroblasts can undergo myofibroblast differentiation. To date, the impact of mechanical cues on cardiac myofibroblast differentiation has been studied both in vitro and in vivo. Most of the related in vitro research into this has been mainly undertaken in two-dimensional cell culture systems, although a few three-dimensional studies that exist revealed an important role of dimensionality. However, despite remarkable advances, the comprehensive mechanisms for mechanoregulation of cardiac myofibroblast differentiation remain elusive. In this review, we introduce important parameters for evaluating cardiac myofibroblast differentiation and then discuss the development of both in vitro (two and three dimensional) and in vivo studies on mechanoregulation of cardiac myofibroblast differentiation. An understanding of the development of cardiac myofibroblast differentiation in response to changing mechanical microenvironment will underlie potential targets for future therapy of cardiac fibrosis and failure.
Nucleic acid testing (NAT), as a molecular diagnostic technique, including nucleic acid extraction, amplification and detection, plays a fundamental role in medical diagnosis for timely medical treatment. However, current NAT technologies require relatively high-end instrumentation, skilled personnel, and are time-consuming. These drawbacks mean conventional NAT becomes impractical in many resource-limited disease-endemic settings, leading to an urgent need to develop a fast and portable NAT diagnostic tool. Paper-based devices are typically robust, cost-effective and user-friendly, holding a great potential for NAT at the point of care. In view of the escalating demand for the low cost diagnostic devices, we highlight the beneficial use of paper as a platform for NAT, the current state of its development, and the existing challenges preventing its widespread use. We suggest a strategy involving integrating all three steps of NAT into one single paper-based sample-to-answer diagnostic device for rapid medical diagnostics in the near future.
Hydrogel particles that can be engineered to compartmentally culture cells in a three-dimensional (3D) and high-throughput manner have attracted increasing interest in the biomedical area. However, the ability to generate hydrogel particles with specially designed structures and their potential biomedical applications need to be further explored. This work introduces a method for fabricating hydrogel particles in an ellipsoidal cap-like shape (i.e., ellipsoidal cap-like hydrogel particles) by employing an open-pore anodic aluminum oxide membrane. Hydrogel particles of different sizes are fabricated. The ability to produce ellipsoidal cap-like magnetic hydrogel particles with controlled distribution of magnetic nanoparticles is demonstrated. Encapsulated cells show high viability, indicating the potential for using these hydrogel particles as structure- and remote-controllable building blocks for tissue engineering application. Moreover, the hydrogel particles are also used as sacrificial templates for fabricating ellipsoidal cap-like concave wells, which are further applied for producing size controllable cell aggregates. The results are beneficial for the development of hydrogel particles and their applications in 3D cell culture.
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) emerges as building bricks for the fabrication of nanostructure with complete artificial architecture and geometry. The amazing ability of DNA in building two- and three-dimensional structures raises the possibility of developing smart nanomachines with versatile controllability for various applications. Here, we overviewed the recent progresses in engineering DNA machines for specific bioengineering and biomedical applications.
Regenerative medicine has rapidly evolved over the past decade owing to its potential applications to improve human health. Targeted differentiations of stem cells promise to regenerate a variety of tissues and/or organs despite significant challenges. Recent studies have demonstrated the vital role of the physical microenvironment in regulating stem cell fate and improving differentiation efficiency. In this review, we summarize the main physical cues that are crucial for controlling stem cell differentiation. Recent advances in the technologies for the construction of physical microenvironment and their implications in controlling stem cell fate are also highlighted.
Lateral flow assays (LFAs) hold great promise for point-of-care testing, especially in resource-poor settings. However, the poor sensitivity of LFAs limits their widespread applications. To address this, we developed a novel device by integrating dialysis-based concentration method into LFAs. The device successfully achieved 10-fold signal enhancement in Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) nucleic acid detection with a detection limit of 0.1nM and 4-fold signal enhancement in myoglobin (MYO) detection with a detection limit of 1.56ng/mL in less than 25min. This simple, low-cost and portable integrated device holds great potential for highly sensitive detection of various target analytes for medical diagnostics, food safety analysis and environmental monitoring.
Cryopreservation is the most promising way for long-term storage of biological samples e.g., single cells and cellular structures. Among various cryopreservation methods, vitrification is advantageous by employing high cooling rate to avoid the formation of harmful ice crystals in cells. Most existing vitrification methods adopt direct contact of cells with liquid nitrogen to obtain high cooling rates, which however causes the potential contamination and difficult cell collection. To address these limitations, we developed a non-contact vitrification device based on an ultra-thin freezing film to achieve high cooling/warming rate and avoid direct contact between cells and liquid nitrogen. A high-throughput cell printer was employed to rapidly generate uniform cell-laden microdroplets into the device, where the microdroplets were hung on one side of the film and then vitrified by pouring the liquid nitrogen onto the other side via boiling heat transfer. Through theoretical and experimental studies on vitrification processes, we demonstrated that our device offers a high cooling/warming rate for vitrification of the NIH 3T3 cells and human adipose-derived stem cells (hASCs) with maintained cell viability and differentiation potential. This non-contact vitrification device provides a novel and effective way to cryopreserve cells at high throughput and avoid the contamination and collection problems.
The identification and quantification of chemicals play a vital role in evaluation and surveillance of environmental health and safety. However, current techniques usually depend on costly equipment, professional staff, and/or essential infrastructure, limiting their accessibility. In this work, we develop paper-based capacitive sensors (PCSs) that allow simple, rapid identification and quantification of various chemicals from microliter size samples with the aid of a handheld multimeter. PCSs are low-cost parallel-plate capacitors (~$0.01 per sensor) assembled from layers of aluminum foil and filter paper via double-sided tape. The developed PCSs can identify different kinds of fluids (e.g., organic chemicals) and quantify diverse concentrations of substances (e.g., heavy metal ions) based on differences in dielectric properties, including capacitance, frequency spectrum, and dielectric loss tangent. The PCS-based method enables chemical identification and quantification to take place much cheaply, simply, and quickly at the point-of-care (POC), holding great promise for environmental monitoring in resource-limited settings.
Paper-based devices have been broadly used for the point-of-care detection of dengue viral nucleic acids due to their simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and readily observable colorimetric readout. However, their moderate sensitivity and functionality have limited their applications. Despite the above-mentioned advantages, paper substrates are lacking in their ability to control fluid flow, in contrast to the flow control enabled by polymer substrates (e.g., agarose) with readily tunable pore size and porosity. Herein, taking the benefits from both materials, the authors propose a strategy to create a hybrid substrate by incorporating agarose into the test strip to achieve flow control for optimal biomolecule interactions. As compared to the unmodified test strip, this strategy allows sensitive detection of targets with an approximately tenfold signal improvement. Additionally, the authors showcase the potential of functionality improvement by creating multiple test zones for semi-quantification of targets, suggesting that the number of visible test zones is directly proportional to the target concentration. The authors further demonstrate the potential of their proposed strategy for clinical assessment by applying it to their prototype sample-to-result test strip to sensitively and semi-quantitatively detect dengue viral RNA from the clinical blood samples. This proposed strategy holds significant promise for detecting various targets for diverse future applications.
Adipose tissue-derived stromal cells (ASCs) natively reside in a relatively low-oxygen tension (i.e., hypoxic) microenvironment in human body. Low oxygen tension (i.e., in situ normoxia), has been known to enhance the growth and survival rate of ASCs, which, however, may lead to the risk of tumourigenesis. Here, we investigated the tumourigenic potential of ASCs under their physiological condition to ensure their safe use in regenerative therapy. Human ASCs isolated from subcutaneous fat were cultured in atmospheric O2 concentration (21% O2) or in situ normoxia (2% O2). We found that ASCs retained their surface markers, tri-lineage differentiation potential, and self-renewal properties under in situ normoxia without altering their morphology. In situ normoxia displayed a higher proliferation and viability of ASCs with less DNA damage as compared to atmospheric O2 concentration. Moreover, low oxygen tension significantly up-regulated VEGF and bFGF mRNA expression and protein secretion while reducing the expression level of tumour suppressor genes p16, p21, p53, and pRb. However, there were no significant differences in ASCs telomere length and their relative telomerase activity when cultured at different oxygen concentrations. Collectively, even with high proliferation and survival rate, ASCs have a low tendency of developing tumour under in situ normoxia. These results suggest 2% O2 as an ideal culture condition for expanding ASCs efficiently while maintaining their characteristics.
In nucleic acid testing (NAT), gold nanoparticle (AuNP)-based lateral flow assays (LFAs) have received significant attention due to their cost-effectiveness, rapidity, and the ability to produce a simple colorimetric readout. However, the poor sensitivity of AuNP-based LFAs limits its widespread applications. Even though various efforts have been made to improve the assay sensitivity, most methods are inappropriate for integration into LFA for sample-to-answer NAT at the point-of-care (POC), usually due to the complicated fabrication processes or incompatible chemicals used. To address this, we propose a novel strategy of integrating a simple fluidic control strategy into LFA. The strategy involves incorporating a piece of paper-based shunt and a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) barrier to the strip to achieve optimum fluidic delays for LFA signal enhancement, resulting in 10-fold signal enhancement over unmodified LFA. The phenomena of fluidic delay were also evaluated by mathematical simulation, through which we found the movement of fluid throughout the shunt and the tortuosity effects in the presence of PDMS barrier, which significantly affect the detection sensitivity. To demonstrate the potential of integrating this strategy into a LFA with sample-in-answer-out capability, we further applied this strategy into our prototype sample-to-answer LFA to sensitively detect the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) in clinical blood samples. The proposed strategy offers great potential for highly sensitive detection of various targets for wide application in the near future.
In recent years, paper-based point-of-care testing (POCT) has been widely used in medical diagnostics, food safety and environmental monitoring. However, a high-cost, time-consuming and equipment-dependent sample pretreatment technique is generally required for raw sample processing, which are impractical for low-resource and disease-endemic areas. Therefore, there is an escalating demand for a cost-effective, simple and portable pretreatment technique, to be coupled with the commonly used paper-based assay (e.g. lateral flow assay) in POCT. In this review, we focus on the importance of using paper as a platform for sample pretreatment. We firstly discuss the beneficial use of paper for sample pretreatment, including sample collection and storage, separation, extraction, and concentration. We highlight the working principle and fabrication of each sample pretreatment device, the existing challenges and the future perspectives for developing paper-based sample pretreatment technique.