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Biomaterials. 2012 Jul;33(21):5221-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2012.04.009. Epub 2012 Apr 26.

Mimicking normal tissue architecture and perturbation in cancer with engineered micro-epidermis.

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Melville Laboratory for Polymer Synthesis, Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, CB2 1EW, UK.


Correct tissue architecture is essential for normal physiology, yet there have been few attempts to recreate tissues using micro-patterning. We have used polymer brush micro-engineering to generate a stratified micro-epidermis with fewer than 10 human keratinocytes. Epidermal stem cells are captured on 100 μm diameter circular collagen-coated disks. Within 24 h they assemble a stratified micro-tissue, in which differentiated cells have a central suprabasal location. For rings with a non-adhesive centre of up to 40 μm diameter, cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesive interactions together result in correct micro-epidermis assembly. Assembly requires actin polymerization, adherens junctions and desmosomes, but not myosin II-mediated contractility nor coordinated cell movement. Squamous cell carcinoma cells on micro-patterned rings exhibit disturbed architecture that correlates with the characteristics of the original tumours. The micro-epidermis we have generated provides a new platform for screening drugs that modulate tissue assembly, quantifying tissue stratification and investigating the properties of tumour cells.

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