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Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol. | doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2018.00197

Mimicking epithelial tissues in three-dimensional cell culture models

  • 1Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, Spain
  • 2Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red (CIBER), Spain
  • 3University of Barcelona, Spain

Epithelial tissues are composed of layers of tightly connected cells shaped into complex three-dimensional (3D) structures such as cysts, tubules, or invaginations. These complex 3D structures are important for the organ-specific function and often create biochemical gradients that guide cell positioning and compartmentalization within the organ. One of the main functions of epithelia is to act as physical barriers that protect the underlying tissues from external insults. In vitro, epithelial barriers are usually mimicked by oversimplified models based on cell lines grown as monolayers on flat surfaces. While useful to answer certain questions, these models cannot fully capture the in vivo organ physiology and often yield poor predictions. In order to progress further in basic and translational research, disease modelling, drug discovery, and regenerative medicine, it is essential to advance the development of new in vitro predictive models of epithelial tissues that are capable of representing the in vivo-like structures and organ functionality more accurately. Here, we review current strategies for obtaining biomimetic systems in the form of advanced in vitro models that allow for more reliable and safer preclinical tests. The current state of the art and potential applications of self-organized cell-based systems, organ-on-a-chip devices that incorporate sensors and monitoring capabilities, as well as microfabrication techniques including bioprinting and photolithography are discussed. These techniques could be combined to help provide highly predictive drug tests for patient-specific conditions in the near future.

Keywords: Epithelial Barriers, 3D cell culture models, Organoids, organ-on-a-chip, microengineered tissues, Biofabrication, drug screening, disease modelling

Received: 28 Sep 2018; Accepted: 30 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Massimo Alberti, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore

Reviewed by:

Hyun Jung Kim, University of Texas at Austin, United States
Gopu Sriram, Faculty of Dentistry, National University of Singapore, Singapore  

Copyright: © 2018 Torras, García-Díaz, Fernández-Majada and Martinez. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence:
Dr. Vanesa Fernández-Majada, Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, vfernandez@ibecbarcelona.eu
Dr. Elena Martinez, Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, emartinez@ibecbarcelona.eu