Biological Engineering


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Protocols in Current Issue
0 Q&A 824 Views Feb 20, 2024

Biomaterials are designed to interact with biological systems to replace, support, enhance, or monitor their function. However, there are challenges associated with traditional biomaterials’ development due to the lack of underlying theory governing cell response to materials’ chemistry. This leads to the time-consuming process of testing different materials plus the adverse reactions in the body such as cytotoxicity and foreign body response. High-throughput screening (HTS) offers a solution to these challenges by enabling rapid and simultaneous testing of a large number of materials to determine their bio-interactions and biocompatibility. Secreted proteins regulate many physiological functions and determine the success of implanted biomaterials through directing cell behaviour. However, the majority of biomaterials’ HTS platforms are suitable for microscopic analyses of cell behaviour and not for investigating non-adherent cells or measuring cell secretions. Here, we describe a multi-well platform adaptable to robotic printing of polymers and suitable for secretome profiling of both adherent and non-adherent cells. We detail the platform's development steps, encompassing the preparation of individual cell culture chambers, polymer printing, and the culture environment, as well as examples to demonstrate surface chemical characterisation and biological assessments of secreted mediators. Such platforms will no doubt facilitate the discovery of novel biomaterials and broaden their scope by adapting wider arrays of cell types and incorporating assessments of both secretome and cell-bound interactions.


Key features

• Detailed protocols for preparation of substrate for contact printing of acrylate-based polymers including O2 plasma etching, functionalisation process, and Poly(2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) (pHEMA) dip coating.

• Preparations of 7 mm × 7 mm polymers employing pin printing system.

• Provision of confined area for each polymer using ProPlate® multi-well chambers.

• Compatibility of this platform was validated using adherent cells [primary human monocyte–derived macrophages (MDMs)) and non-adherent cells (primary human monocyte–derived dendritic cells (moDCs)].

• Examples of the adaptability of the platform for secretome analysis including five different cytokines using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA, DuoSet®).


Graphical overview


Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 278 Views Feb 5, 2024

Enzyme immobilization offers a number of advantages that improve biocatalysis; however, finding a proper way to immobilize enzymes is often a challenging task. Implanting enzymes in metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) via co-crystallization, also known as biomineralization, provides enhanced reusability and stability with minimal perturbation and substrate selectivity to the enzyme. Currently, there are limited metal–ligand combinations with a proper protocol guiding the experimental procedures. We have recently explored 10 combinations that allow custom immobilization of enzymes according to enzyme stability and activity in different metals/ligands. Here, as a follow-up of that work, we present a protocol for how to carry out custom immobilization of enzymes using the available combinations of metal ions and ligands. Detailed procedures to prepare metal ions, ligands, and enzymes for their co-crystallization, together with characterization and assessment, are discussed. Precautions for each experimental step and result analysis are highlighted as well. This protocol is important for enzyme immobilization in various research and industrial fields.


Key features

• A wide selection of metal ions and ligands allows for the immobilization of enzymes in metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) via co-crystallization.

• Step-by-step enzyme immobilization procedure via co-crystallization of metal ions, organic linkers, and enzymes.

• Practical considerations and experimental conditions to synthesize the enzyme@MOF biocomposites are discussed.

• The demonstrated method can be generalized to immobilize other enzymes and find other metal ion/ligand combinations to form MOFs in water and host enzymes.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 477 Views Feb 5, 2024

Recombinant adeno-associated viruses (rAAVs) are valuable viral vectors for in vivo gene transfer, also having significant ex vivo therapeutic potential. Continued efforts have focused on various gene therapy applications, capsid engineering, and scalable manufacturing processes. Adherent cells are commonly used for virus production in most basic science laboratories because of their efficiency and cost. Although suspension cells are easier to handle and scale up compared to adherent cells, their use in virus production is hampered by poor transfection efficiency. In this protocol, we developed a simple scalable AAV production protocol using serum-free-media-adapted HEK293T suspension cells and VirusGEN transfection reagent. The established protocol allows AAV production from transfection to quality analysis of purified AAV within two weeks. Typical vector yields for the described suspension system followed by iodixanol purification range from a total of 1 × 1013 to 1.5 × 1013 vg (vector genome) using 90 mL of cell suspension vs. 1 × 1013 to 2 × 1013 vg using a regular adherent cell protocol (10 × 15 cm dishes).


Key features

• Adeno-associated virus (AAV) production using serum-free-media-adapted HEK293T suspension cells.

• Efficient transfection with VirusGEN.

• High AAV yield from small-volume cell culture.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 620 Views Jan 20, 2024

Human skin reconstruction on immune-deficient mice has become indispensable for in vivo studies performed in basic research and translational laboratories. Further advancements in making sustainable, prolonged skin equivalents to study new therapeutic interventions rely on reproducible models utilizing patient-derived cells and natural three-dimensional culture conditions mimicking the structure of living skin. Here, we present a novel step-by-step protocol for grafting human skin cells onto immunocompromised mice that requires low starting cell numbers, which is essential when primary patient cells are limited for modeling skin conditions. The core elements of our method are the sequential transplantation of fibroblasts followed by keratinocytes seeded into a fibrin-based hydrogel in a silicone chamber. We optimized the fibrin gel formulation, timing for gel polymerization in vivo, cell culture conditions, and seeding density to make a robust and efficient grafting protocol. Using this approach, we can successfully engraft as few as 1.0 × 106 fresh and 2.0 × 106 frozen-then-thawed keratinocytes per 1.4 cm2 of the wound area. Additionally, it was concluded that a successful layer-by-layer engraftment of skin cells in vivo could be obtained without labor-intensive and costly methodologies such as bioprinting or engineering complex skin equivalents.


Key features

• Expands upon the conventional skin chamber assay method (Wang et al., 2000) to generate high-quality skin grafts using a minimal number of cultured skin cells.

• The proposed approach allows the use of frozen-then-thawed keratinocytes and fibroblasts in surgical procedures.

• This system holds promise for evaluating the functionality of skin cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells and replicating various skin phenotypes.

• The entire process, from thawing skin cells to establishing the graft, requires 54 days.


Graphical overview



Generation of a human skin equivalent on an immunodeficient mouse using a fibrin-based grafting system. A schematic of the protocol is shown. Cultured keratinocytes and fibroblasts resuspended in a fibrin-based gel are delivered as layers into a silicon chamber inserted underneath the skin of an immunocompromised mouse. First, a fibrin gel containing encapsulated fibroblasts (up to 2 × 106 per 1.4 cm2 wound) is delivered into the chamber and allowed to solidify for 15 minutes. Second, a fibrin gel containing 1.0–2.0 × 106 keratinocytes is applied on top of the fibroblast layer. On day 7 post-grafting, the chamber is removed, and the wound with the graft is allowed to heal for 4–5 weeks. During healing, a scab forms and eventually falls off. By day 54, the graft is fully established.

0 Q&A 400 Views Jan 20, 2024

Cell-based liver therapies utilizing functionally stabilized engineered hepatic tissue hold promise in improving host liver functions and are emerging as a potential alternative to whole-organ transplantation. Owing to the ability to accommodate a large ex vivo engineered hepatocyte mass and dense vascularization, the mesenteric parametrial fat pad in female nude mice forms an ideal anatomic microenvironment for ectopic hepatocyte transplantation. However, the lack of any reported protocol detailing the presurgical preparation and construction of the engineered hepatic hydrogel, fat pad surgery, and postsurgical care and bioluminescence imaging to confirm in vivo hepatocyte implantation makes it challenging to reliably perform and test engraftment and integration with the host. In this report, we provide a step-by-step protocol for in vivo hepatocyte implantation, including preparation of hepatic tissue for implantation, the surgery process, and bioluminescence imaging to assess survival of functional hepatocytes. This will be a valuable protocol for researchers in the fields of tissue engineering, transplantation, and regenerative medicine.


Key features

• Primary human hepatocytes transduced ex vivo with a lentiviral vector carrying firefly luciferase are surgically implanted onto the fat pad.

• Bioluminescence helps monitor survival of transplanted hepatic tissue over time.

• Applicable for assessment of graft survival, graft-host integration, and liver regeneration.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 501 Views Jan 5, 2024

In vitro differentiation of human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) model systems has furthered our understanding of human development. Techniques used to elucidate gene function during early development have encountered technical challenges, especially when targeting embryonic lethal genes. The introduction of CRISPRoff by Nuñez and collaborators provides an opportunity to heritably silence genes during long-term differentiation. We modified CRISPRoff and sgRNA Sleeping Beauty transposon vectors that depend on tetracycline-controlled transcriptional activation to silence the expression of embryonic lethal genes at different stages of differentiation in a stable manner. We provide instructions on how to generate sgRNA transposon vectors that can be used in combination with our CRISPRoff transposon vector and a stable hPSC line. We validate the use of this tool by silencing MCL-1, an anti-apoptotic protein, which results in pre-implantation embryonic lethality in mice; this protein is necessary for oligodendrocyte and hematopoietic stem cell development and is required for the in vitro survival of hPSCs. In this protocol, we use an adapted version of the differentiation protocol published by Douvaras and Fossati (2015) to generate oligodendrocyte lineage cells from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). After introduction of the CRISPRoff and sgRNAs transposon vectors in hESCs, we silence MCL-1 in committed oligodendrocyte neural precursor cells and describe methods to measure its expression. With the methods described here, users can design sgRNA transposon vectors targeting MCL-1 or other essential genes of interest to study human oligodendrocyte development or other differentiation protocols that use hPSC model systems.


Key features

• Generation of an inducible CRISPRoff Sleeping Beauty transposon system.

• Experiments performed in vitro for generation of inducible CRISPRoff pluripotent stem cell line amenable to oligodendrocyte differentiation.

• Strategy to downregulate an essential gene at different stages of oligodendrocyte development.


Graphical overview



Workflow for generating inducible CRISPRoff stem cell line and assessing knockdown phenotype in stem cell–derived committed oligodendrocyte neural precursor cells

0 Q&A 335 Views Nov 20, 2023

The relative ease of genetic manipulation in S. cerevisiae is one of its greatest strengths as a model eukaryotic organism. Researchers have leveraged this quality of the budding yeast to study the effects of a variety of genetic perturbations, such as deletion or overexpression, in a high-throughput manner. This has been accomplished by producing a number of strain libraries that can contain hundreds or even thousands of distinct yeast strains with unique genetic alterations. While these strategies have led to enormous increases in our understanding of the functions and roles that genes play within cells, the techniques used to screen genetically modified libraries of yeast strains typically rely on plate or sequencing-based assays that make it difficult to analyze gene expression changes over time. Microfluidic devices, combined with fluorescence microscopy, can allow gene expression dynamics of different strains to be captured in a continuous culture environment; however, these approaches often have significantly lower throughput compared to traditional techniques. To address these limitations, we have developed a microfluidic platform that uses an array pinning robot to allow for up to 48 different yeast strains to be transferred onto a single device. Here, we detail a validated methodology for constructing and setting up this microfluidic device, starting with the photolithography steps for constructing the wafer, then the soft lithography steps for making polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic devices, and finally the robotic arraying of strains onto the device for experiments. We have applied this device for dynamic screens of a protein aggregation library; however, this methodology has the potential to enable complex and dynamic screens of yeast libraries for a wide range of applications.


Key features

• Major steps of this protocol require access to specialized equipment (i.e., microfabrication tools typically found in a cleanroom facility and an array pinning robot).

• Construction of microfluidic devices with multiple different feature heights using photolithography and soft lithography with PDMS.

• Robotic spotting of up to 48 different yeast strains onto microfluidic devices.

0 Q&A 392 Views Nov 5, 2023

While site-specific translational encoding of phosphoserine (pSer) into proteins in Escherichia coli via genetic code expansion (GCE) technologies has transformed our ability to study phospho-protein structure and function, recombinant phospho-proteins can be dephosphorylated during expression/purification, and their exposure to cellular-like environments such as cell lysates results in rapid reversion back to the non-phosphorylated form. To help overcome these challenges, we developed an efficient and scalable E. coli GCE expression system enabling site-specific incorporation of a non-hydrolyzable phosphoserine (nhpSer) mimic into proteins of interest. This nhpSer mimic, with the γ-oxygen of phosphoserine replaced by a methylene (CH2) group, is impervious to hydrolysis and recapitulates phosphoserine function even when phosphomimetics aspartate and glutamate do not. Key to this expression system is the co-expression of a Streptomyces biosynthetic pathway that converts the central metabolite phosphoenolpyruvate into non-hydrolyzable phosphoserine (nhpSer) amino acid, which provides a > 40-fold improvement in expression yields compared to media supplementation by increasing bioavailability of nhpSer and enables scalability of expressions. This “PermaPhos” expression system uses the E. coli BL21(DE3) ∆serC strain and three plasmids that express (i) the protein of interest, (ii) the GCE machinery for translational installation of nhpSer at UAG amber stop codons, and (iii) the Streptomyces nhpSer biosynthetic pathway. Successful expression requires efficient transformation of all three plasmids simultaneously into the expression host, and IPTG is used to induce expression of all components. Permanently phosphorylated proteins made in E. coli are particularly useful for discovering phosphorylation-dependent protein–protein interaction networks from cell lysates or transfected cells.


Key features

• Protocol builds on the nhpSer GCE system by Rogerson et al. (2015), but with a > 40-fold improvement in yields enabled by the nhpSer biosynthetic pathway.

• Protein expression uses standard Terrific Broth (TB) media and requires three days to complete.

• C-terminal purification tags on target protein are recommended to avoid co-purification of prematurely truncated protein with full-length nhpSer-containing protein.

• Phos-tag gel electrophoresis provides a convenient method to confirm accurate nhpSer encoding, as it can distinguish between non-phosphorylated, pSer- and nhpSer-containing variants.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 687 Views Oct 5, 2023

Corneal epithelium and stroma are the major cellular structures for ocular protection and vision accuracy; they play important roles in corneal wound healing and inflammation under pathological conditions. Unlike human, murine corneal and stromal fibroblast cells are difficult to isolate for cell culture. In our laboratory, we successfully used an ex vivo culture procedure and an enzymatic procedure to isolate, purify, and culture mouse corneal epithelial and stromal fibroblast cells.


Key features

• Primary cell culture models of a disease are critical for cellular and molecular mechanism studies.

• Corneal tissues with the limbus contain stem cells to generate both epithelial and stromal cells.

• An ex vivo corneal culture provides a constant generation of primary corneal cells for multiple passages.

• The isolated cells are validated by the corneal epithelial cell markers Krt12 and Cdh1 and the stromal fibroblast marker Vim.

0 Q&A 370 Views Oct 5, 2023

Different regions of the gastrointestinal tract have specific functions and thus distinct motility patterns. Motility is primarily regulated by the enteric nervous system (ENS), an intrinsic network of neurons located within the gut wall. Under physiological conditions, the ENS is influenced by the central nervous system (CNS). However, by using ex vivo organ bath experiments, ENS regulation of gut motility can also be studied in the absence of CNS influences. The current technique enables the characterisation of small intestinal, caecal, and colonic motility patterns using an ex vivo organ bath and video imaging protocol. This approach is combined with the novel edge detection script GutMap, available in MATLAB, that functions across Windows and Mac platforms. Dissected intestinal segments are cannulated in an organ bath containing physiological saline with a camera mounted overhead. Video recordings of gut contractions are then converted to spatiotemporal heatmaps and analysed using the GutMap software interface. Using data analysed from the heatmaps, parameters of contractile patterns (including contraction propagation frequency and velocity as well as gut diameter) at baseline and in the presence of drugs/treatments/genetic mutations can be compared. Here, we studied motility patterns of female mice at baseline and in the presence of a nitric oxide synthase inhibitor (Nω-Nitro-L-arginine; NOLA) (nitric oxide being the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of gut motility) to showcase the application of GutMap. This technique is suitable for application to a broad range of animal models of clinical disorders to understand underlying biological pathways contributing to gastrointestinal dysfunction.


Key features

• Enhanced video imaging analysis of gut contractility in rodents using a novel software interface.

• New edge detection algorithm to accurately contour curvatures of the gastrointestinal tract.

• Allows for output of high-resolution spatiotemporal heatmaps across Windows and Mac platforms.

• Edge detection and analysis method makes motility measurements accessible in different gut regions including the caecum and stomach.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 400 Views Sep 20, 2023

Device-induced thrombosis remains a major complication of extracorporeal life support (ECLS). To more thoroughly understand how blood components interact with the artificial surfaces of ECLS circuit components, assessment of clot deposition on these surfaces following clinical use is urgently needed. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM), which produces high-resolution images at nanoscale level, allows visualization and characterization of thrombotic deposits on ECLS circuitry. However, methodologies to increase the quantifiability of SEM analysis of ECLS circuit components have yet to be applied clinically. To address these issues, we developed a protocol to quantify clot deposition on ECLS membrane oxygenator gas transfer fiber sheets through digital and SEM imaging techniques. In this study, ECLS membrane oxygenator fiber sheets were obtained, fixed, and imaged after use. Following a standardized process, the percentage of clot deposition on both digital images and SEM images was quantified using ImageJ through blind reviews. The interrater reliability of quantitative analysis among reviewers was evaluated. Although this protocol focused on the analysis of ECLS membrane oxygenators, it is also adaptable to other components of the ECLS circuits such as catheters and tubing.


Key features

• Quantitative analysis of clot deposition using digital and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) techniques

• High-resolution images at nanoscale level

• Extracorporeal life support (ECLS) devices

• Membrane oxygenators

• Blood-contacting surfaces


Graphical overview





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