Morphogenesis implies the controlled spatial organization of cells that gives rise to tissues and organs in early embryonic development. While morphogenesis is under strict genetic control, the formation of specialized biological structures of specific shape hinges on physical processes. Tissue engineering (TE) aims at reproducing morphogenesis in the laboratory, i.e., in vitro, to fabricate replacement organs for regenerative medicine. The classical approach to generate tissues/organs is by seeding and expanding cells in appropriately shaped biocompatible scaffolds, in the hope that the maturation process will result in the desired structure. To accomplish this goal more naturally and efficiently, we set up and implemented a novel TE method that is based on principles of developmental biology and employs bioprinting, the automated delivery of cellular composites into a three-dimensional (3D) biocompatible environment. The novel technology relies on the concept of tissue liquidity according to which multicellular aggregates composed of adhesive and motile cells behave in analogy with liquids: in particular, they fuse. We emphasize the major role played by tissue fusion in the embryo and explain how the parameters (surface tension, viscosity) that govern tissue fusion can be used both experimentally and theoretically to control and simulate the self-assembly of cellular spheroids into 3D living structures. The experimentally observed postprinting shape evolution of tube- and sheet-like constructs is presented. Computer simulations, based on a liquid model, support the idea that tissue liquidity may provide a mechanism for in vitro organ building.
Copyright 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.