Pneumatically actuated cell-stretching array platform for engineering cell patterns in vitro†
Cellular response to mechanical stimuli is a well-known phenomenon known as mechanotransduction. It is widely accepted that mechanotransduction plays an important role in cell alignment which is critical for cell homeostasis. Although many approaches have been developed in recent years to study the effect of external mechanical stimuli on cell behaviour, most of them have not explored the ability of mechanical stimuli to engineer cell alignment to obtain patterned cell cultures. This paper introduces a simple, yet effective pneumatically actuated 4 × 2 cell stretching array for concurrently inducing a range of cyclic normal strains onto cell cultures to achieve predefined cell alignment. We utilised a ring-shaped normal strain pattern to demonstrate the growth of in vitro patterned cell cultures with predefined circumferential cellular alignment. Furthermore, to ensure the compatibility of the developed cell stretching platform with general tools and existing protocols, the dimensions of the developed cell-stretching platform follow the standard F-bottom 96-well plate. In this study, we report the principle design, simulation and characterisation of the cell-stretching platform with preliminary observations using fibroblast cells. Our experimental results of cytoskeleton reorganisation such as perpendicular cellular alignment of the cells to the direction of normal strain are consistent with those reported in the literature. After two hours of stretching, the circumferential alignment of fibroblast cells confirms the capability of the developed system to achieve patterned cell culture. The cell-stretching platform reported is potentially a useful tool for drug screening in 2D mechanobiology experiments, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.