For many years, scientists have used a combination of 2D tissue culture systems and model organisms to study human development and disease. Although many major discoveries have been made using these systems, in the last 10-15 years researchers have made significant advances in developing more physiologically relevant, tractable models. There are two main strands: (1) organoids, which are self-organising “mini organs” grown from stem cells that differentiate into organ-specific cells types, and (2) organ-on-a-chip, a patterned microfluidic chip upon which different cells types can be grown.

In this image we can see an arterial wall-on-a-chip that Nanyang Technological University cell biologist Chengxun Su and colleagues have developed. They use the chip as a model for studying atherosclerosis, the main cause of cardiovascular disease. The chip is made of a co-culture of endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells (SMCs), combined with a precisely controlled extracellular matrix composition and location. The addition of the SMCs and their correct alignment is essential as both cell types and the interaction between them are important in understanding atherosclerosis. It is the aligned SMCs we see in this image, which are labelled with F-actin in red and the nuclei in blue. 

The replication of key structural features of the arterial environment combined with the tractability of the system make this an exciting advance. 

Author: Chengxun Su

Specimen: aligned bundle of vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs)/arterial wall-on-a-chip”

Microscope: Inverted Confocal Airyscan Microscope LSM800

Reagents: Alexa Fluor® 568 phalloidin (Life Technologies) & Hoechst 33342 (Life Technologies)

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