Electrodynamic assisted self-assembled fibrous hydrogel microcapsules: a novel 3D in vitro platform for assessment of nanoparticle toxicity†
Nanoparticle (NP) toxicity assessment is a critical step in assessing the health impacts of NP exposure to both consumers and occupational workers. In vitro assessment models comprising cells cultured in a two-dimensional tissue culture plate (2D-TCP) are an efficient and cost-effective choice for estimating the safety risks of NPs. However, in vitro culture of cells in 2D-TCPs distorts cell–integrin and cell–cell interactions and is not able to replicate an in vivo phenotype. Three-dimensional (3D) in vitro platforms provide a unique alternative to bridge the gap between traditional 2D in vitro and in vivo models. In this study, novel microcapsules of alginate hydrogel incorporated with natural polymeric nanofibers (chitin nanofibrils) and synthetic polymeric nanofibers poly(lactide-co-glycolide) are designed as a 3D in vitro platform. This study demonstrates for the first time that electrodynamic assisted self-assembled fibrous 3D hydrogel (3D-SAF hydrogel) microcapsules with a size in the range of 300–500 μm in diameter with a Young's modulus of 12.7–42 kPa can be obtained by varying the amount of nanofibers in the hydrogel precursor solutions. The 3D-SAF microcapsules were found to mimic the in vivo cellular microenvironment for cells to grow, as evaluated using A549 cells. Higher cellular spreading and prolonged proliferation of A549 cells were observed in 3D-SAF microcapsules compared to control microcapsules without the nanofibers. The 3D-SAF microcapsule integrated well plate was used to assess the toxicity of model NPs, e.g., Al2O3 and ZnO. The toxicity levels of the model NPs were found to be dependent on the chemistry of the NPs and their physical agglomeration in the test media. Our results demonstrate that 3D-SAF microcapsules with an in vivo mimicking microenvironment can be developed as a physiologically relevant platform for high-throughput toxicity screening of NPs or pharmaceutical drugs.