A bioreactor to identify the driving mechanical stimuli of tissue growth and remodeling

A.J. van Kelle, P.J.A. Oomen, J.A. Bulsink, W.J.T. Janssen - van den Broek, R.G.P. Lopata, M.C.M. Rutten, S. Loerakker, C.V.C. Bouten

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Tissue growth and remodeling are essential processes that should ensure long-term functionality of tissue-engineered (TE) constructs. Even though it is widely recognized that these processes strongly depend on mechanical stimuli, the underlying mechanisms of mechanically induced growth and remodeling are only partially understood. It is generally accepted that cells sense mechanical changes and respond by altering their surroundings, by means of extracellular matrix growth and remodeling, in an attempt to return to a certain preferred mechanical homeostatic state. However, the exact mechanical cues that trigger cells to synthesize and remodel their environment remain unclear. To identify the driving mechanical stimuli of these processes, it is critical to be able to temporarily follow the mechanical state of developing tissues under physiological loading conditions. Therefore, a novel "versatile tissue growth and remodeling" (Vertigro) bioreactor was developed that is capable of tissue culture and mechanical stimulation for a prolonged time period, while simultaneously performing mechanical testing. The Vertigro's unique two-chamber design allows easy, sterile handling of circular 3D TE constructs in a dedicated culture chamber, while a separate pressure chamber facilitates a pressure-driven dynamic loading regime during culture. As a proof-of-concept, temporal changes in the mechanical state of cultured tissues were quantified using nondestructive mechanical testing by means of a classical bulge test, in which the tissue displacement was tracked using ultrasound imaging. To demonstrate the successful development of the bioreactor system, compositional, structural, and geometrical changes were qualitatively and quantitatively assessed using a series of standard analysis techniques. With this bioreactor and associated mechanical analysis technique, a powerful toolbox has been developed to quantitatively study and identify the driving mechanical stimuli of engineered tissue growth and remodeling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-387
Number of pages11
JournalTissue Engineering. Part C: Methods
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • biomechanics
  • bioreactor
  • growth and remodeling
  • tissue engineering


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