Published on Fri Sep 24 2021

Bio-hybrid Soft Robotic Bioreactors for Mimicking Multi-Axial Femoropopliteal Artery Mechanobiology

Fell, C., Brooks-Richards, T. L., Woodruff, M. A., Allenby, M. C.

The emerging field of soft robotics aims to emulate dynamic physiological locomotion. Soft robotics' mimicry of naturally complex biomechanics makes them ideal platforms for exerting mechanical stimuli. Such platforms are essential for emulating highly flexible tissues such as the kneecap's femoropopliteal artery (FPA)

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Abstract

The emerging field of soft robotics aims to emulate dynamic physiological locomotion. Soft robotics' mimicry of naturally complex biomechanics makes them ideal platforms for exerting mechanical stimuli for patient-specific tissue maturation and disease modeling applications. Such platforms are essential for emulating highly flexible tissues such as the kneecap's femoropopliteal artery (FPA), one of the most flexible arteries in the body, which flexes and bends during walking, standing, and crouching movements. The FPA is a frequent site of disease, where 80% of all peripheral artery diseases manifest, affecting over 200 million people worldwide. The complex biomechanical and hemodynamic forces within the FPA have been implicated in the frequent occurrence of PAD and lead to debilitating morbidities, such as limb-threatening ischemia. To better mimic these complex biomechanics, we developed an in-vitro bio-hybrid soft robot (BSR). First, Platsil OO-20 was identified as an ideal hyperelastomer for both cell culture and BSR fabrication using 3D printed molds. Then, employing a simulation-based design workflow, we integrated pneumatic network (PneuNet) actuators cast with Platsil OO-20, which extend in angular, longitudinal, and radial dimensions. Pressurizing the BSR PneuNets enabled a range of mechanical stimuli to be dynamically applied during tissue culture to mimic normal and diseased FPA flexions during daily walking and sitting poses, the most extreme being radial distensions of 20% and angular flexions of 140{degrees}. Finally, these designed, manufactured, and programmed vascular BSRs were seeded with mesenchymal stem cells and conditioned for 24 hours to highlight the effect of dynamic conditioning on cultured cell alignment, as well as type IV collagen production and the upregulation of smooth muscle phenotypes. Soft robotic bioreactor platforms that accurately mimic patient-, disease-, and lifestyle-specific mechanobiology will develop fundamental disease understanding, preoperative laboratory simulations for existing therapeutics, and biomanufacturing platforms for tissue-engineered implants.