Last Updated on January 16, 2023

‍In tissue engineering experiments, researchers often focus on techniques for growing cells on synthetic materials. Natural tissue has complex 3D structures with different cell types located in specific regions that are connected with a matrix of protein fibers. One of the major goals of tissue engineering is to develop replacements that recreate this architecture as closely as possible. Currently, most research has focussed on the extracellular matrix (ECM), which provides structural support and is involved in regulating cell behavior. With this in mind, it is important for tissue engineering researchers to understand more about the effects of mechanical stress, more specifically stretching, on mechanotransduction in tissue.

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Why is mechanical stretching important for tissue engineering?

The physical properties of synthetic materials are important to note in tissue engineering experiments. If a material is too soft or pliable, researchers may struggle to control the shape of the cells growing on it and stiff materials often cannot hold enough nutrients for optimal cell proliferation. When creating synthetic tissue, the material needs to be able to support the cells’ natural ECM proteins so that the cells are able to communicate and organize their 3D architecture. Some ECM proteins act as mechanosensors and send signals that can affect cell migration and the overall structure of the tissue. This is why it is important to understand the physical properties of synthetic materials. If synthetic materials can support ECM proteins, then they can help cells organize themselves more efficiently, allowing researchers to use fewer cells or growth factors to achieve the same result. These techniques can help researchers grow tissues that more closely resemble the structure of natural tissues. They can also reduce the risk of rejection–the risk that the body’s immune system attacks the replacement organ.

What is mechanical stretching?

Mechanical stretching is one of the few ways researchers can encourage cells to express ECM proteins. When cells are stretched, they secrete proteins as a response. These proteins may help the stretched cells organize their 3D architecture. They also help other cells in the tissue adopt similar structures. Researchers mechanically stretch tissue in several ways. They may use pins to stretch out thin slices of—or cell sheets formed from—the tissue they’re growing. Or they can use cell stretching devices such as those manufactured by STREX, which can simulate physiological conditions.

Why is mechanical stretching important for your research?

Mechanical stretching can be used in conjunction with synthetic materials to help cells organize themselves. It can also help broken or damaged tissues heal by expressing proteins that encourage cell growth and migration. What do these things have to do with your research? There are several ways that you can use mechanical stretching to help improve your tissue engineering research. For example, you can use it to analyze the mechanical properties of the synthetic materials you’re working with. You can also use it to promote cell growth on these materials.

Final words: Takeaway

In this article, we covered some main goals of tissue engineering, why mechanical stretching is important for researchers, and how you can incorporate mechanical stretching techniques into your research. We also discussed the limitations of mechanical stretching techniques, and how researchers can find the right balance between stretching cells and triggering the formation of fibers.

Find out more about our stretching devices and how they can help you in your research.