The success of cardiovascular tissue engineering (TE) strategies largely depends on the mechanical environment in which cells develop a neotissue through growth and remodeling processes. This mechanical environment is defined by the local scaffold architecture to which cells adhere, that is, the microenvironment, and by external mechanical cues to which cells respond, that is, hemodynamic loading. The hemodynamic environment of early developing blood vessels consists of both shear stress (due to blood flow) and circumferential stretch (due to blood pressure). Experimental platforms that recapitulate this mechanical environment in a controlled and tunable manner are thus critical for investigating cardiovascular TE. In traditional perfusion bioreactors, however, shear stress and stretch are coupled, hampering a clear delineation of their effects on cell and tissue response. In this study, we uniquely designed a bioreactor that independently combines these two types of mechanical cues in eight parallel vascular grafts. The system is computationally and experimentally validated, through finite element analysis and culture of tissue constructs, respectively, to distinguish various levels of shear stress (up to 5 Pa) and cyclic stretch (up to 1.10). To illustrate the usefulness of the system, we investigated the relative contribution of cyclic stretch (1.05 at 0.5 Hz) and shear stress (1 Pa) to tissue development. Both types of hemodynamic loading contributed to cell alignment, but the contribution of shear stress overruled stretch-induced cell proliferation and matrix (i.e., collagen and glycosaminoglycan) production. At a macroscopic level, cyclic stretching led to the most linear stress-stretch response, which was not related to the presence of shear stress. In conclusion, we have developed a bioreactor that is particularly suited to further unravel the interplay between hemodynamics and in situ TE processes. Using the new system, this work highlights the importance of hemodynamic loading to the study of developing vascular tissues.
Full Access Link: Tissue Engineering - Part C: Methods