Lead University: Lehigh University
PI: Svetlana Tatic-Lucic, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Co-PI(s): Sabrina Jedlicka, Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Susan Perry, Department of Chemical Engineering; Nicholas Strandwitz, Department of Materials Science and Engineering
PA Industry: SPTS Technologies

This proposal is focused on they fabrication of the MEMS device for determining mechanical properties of three dimensional aggregates of pluripotent stem cells. Cell aggregates are often used in stem cell culture to mediate cellular maintenance and/or differentiation. In our specific case, these stem cells are human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC cells), which have a number of promising therapeutic uses. For example, in cardiac tissue engineering, the cells have been shown to integrate into the existing tissue and ultimately repair the damaged muscle in vivo. While this is promising, the barrier to clinical implementation lies in the low success rate of stem cell implants. One possible explanation is that their mechanical properties are altered in long term culture conditions. Previous data collected by the team indicate that hMSCs stiffen with age. In addition, the ability of the cells to undergo cellular differentiation (specialization into cells that make up muscle, bone, etc), is significantly reduced.

To study this cellular "aging" phenomenon, a tool for cell screening is required. Prior research has led Prof. Tatic-Lucic to develop BioMEMS devices to measuring mechanical properties of individual cultured cells. However, given the aggregate based growth of many pluripotent stem cell models, such as hMSCs, the existing technology is not suitable, due to cell aggregate size and predicted aggregate mechanics. Therefore, based on our combined expertise and preliminary results, we propose a one-year PITA effort centered upon fabrication of the device that will be used for the biomechanical characterization of cellular aggregates. This device development will involve a local PA-based company, SPTS Technologies, as steps in the device fabrication will aim to solve fundamental challenges in MEMS fabrication. This partnership will therefore contribute to the the body of knowledge that SPTS possesses about MEMS fabrication, furthering the companies' mission and overall goals.