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Nat Protoc. 2020 Jan 10. doi: 10.1038/s41596-019-0230-y. [Epub ahead of print]

Biomimetic smoking robot for in vitro inhalation exposure compatible with microfluidic organ chips.

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Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA.
Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine, Departments of Medicine and Bioengineering, University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO, USA.
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA.
Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Cambridge, MA, USA.
Vascular Biology Program and Department of Surgery, Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


Exposure of lung tissues to cigarette smoke is a major cause of human disease and death worldwide. Unfortunately, adequate model systems that can reliably recapitulate disease biogenesis in vitro, including exposure of the human lung airway to fresh whole cigarette smoke (WCS) under physiological breathing airflow, are lacking. This protocol extension builds upon, and can be used with, our earlier protocol for microfabrication of human organs-on-chips. Here, we describe the engineering, assembly and operation of a microfluidically coupled, multi-compartment platform that bidirectionally 'breathes' WCS through microchannels of a human lung small airway microfluidic culture device, mimicking how lung cells may experience smoke in vivo. Several WCS-exposure systems have been developed, but they introduce smoke directly from above the cell cultures, rather than tangentially as naturally occurs in the lung due to lateral airflow. We detail the development of an organ chip-compatible microrespirator and a smoke machine to simulate breathing behavior and smoking topography parameters such as puff time, inter-puff interval and puffs per cigarette. Detailed design files, assembly instructions and control software are provided. This novel platform can be fabricated and assembled in days and can be used repeatedly. Moderate to advanced engineering and programming skills are required to successfully implement this protocol. When coupled with the small airway chip, this protocol can enable prediction of patient-specific biological responses in a matched-comparative manner. We also demonstrate how to adapt the protocol to expose living ciliated airway epithelial cells to smoke generated by electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) on-chip.


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