Vascular Tissue Engineering and Bioreactor Design Optimization for Cultured Pork
New Harvest Research Fellow: Jessica Krieger (BS in Biology, BA in Psychology; Kent State University, Northeast Ohio Medical University)
Project End Date: October 2019
Project Duration: Full time; Three years funded
Institutes: Kent State University / Northeast Ohio Medical University
Supervisors: Dr. Min-Ho Kim (Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Kent State University) & Dr. William Chilian (Integrative Medical Sciences Department Chair; Northeast Ohio Medical University);
Tissue vascularization is the most pressing technical challenge to scaling up the size and thickness of in vitro meat. Strategies for culturing meat that lack robust vascularization must typically resort to decreasing the ratio of muscle to culture system volume, which increases resource demand and tissue dissimilarity to native muscle. In vitrovascularization techniques have been unsuccessful for decades because they lack elements of in situ tissue form or functionality. Engineered vascular systems must include essential cell types besides endothelial cells to promote the growth and stabilization of blood vessels. Vascular functionality additionally requires technical development of a culture system capable of perfusing oxygen and nutrients to deep tissues. Jess focused on the rapid generation of blood vessel networks from an alginate scaffold that yield interconnected perfusable luminal systems. This is a top-down strategy to design vasculature of variable blood vessel diameters with the capacity to grow nourishing capillary beds that are connected to larger arterial and venous vessels. The stabilization of this anastomosed network within engineered muscle was facilitated by a perfusable bioreactor system capable of organizing and maturing muscle fibers through electrical stimulation.
Jess is conducting basic cultured meat research, looking at the prohibitive costs of production and finding cost-effective solutions, as well as using 2D cell culture and 3D tissue culture to inquire into how we can grow bigger and better muscle while retaining the taste and texture of meat harvested from livestock.
In addition to this basic research, Jess is working on a bioreactor system for culturing meat! Although we believe that in the future, cultured meat will be produced in bioreactors rather than in culture flasks, there is no bioreactor currently in existence which accommodates all of the physiological needs for growing meat in.
The bioreactor system that Jess is designing will improve nutrient and oxygen delivery to the meat cells by acting as an artificial heart that pumps artificial blood into the muscle. This system will also “exercise” the muscle to improve its development, the same way that muscle is exercised inside the body to increase its strength. The hope is that the meat cells grown in Jess’ bioreactor system will produce a bigger and better output than current known methods are able to.
A microscopic photo showing some early signs of bovine (cow) endothelial tube formation, which - it is hoped - will eventually lead to blood vessel formation if the conditions are right.
Pork myotubes, isolated by Jess!
Jess is also developing methods to isolate muscle cells from pigs. Why pigs? As Jess says, “Pigs are one of the smartest animals on the planet (along with humans, elephants, and dolphins), but also one of the most delicious (I mean, who doesn't love bacon?). Therefore making an in vitro meat option for pork and bacon is imperative."
When Jess sent us this microscopic photo, we thought it had to be from a sample of store bought pork, but nope -- she cultured these herself in the lab!
Watch this space for the updates on Jess' research!
Written by Jess Krieger and Erin Kim, December 5, 2016, with updates on July 9, 2018.