Real-time bioimpedance measurements of stem cellbased disease models-on-a-chip
In vitro disease models are powerful platforms for the development of drugs and novel therapies. Stem-cell based approaches have emerged as cutting-edge tools in disease modelling, allowing for deeper insights into previously unknown disease mechanisms. Hence the significant role of these disease-in-a-dish methods in therapeutics and translational medicine. Impedance sensing is a non-invasive, quantitative technique that can monitor changes in cellular behaviour and morphology in real-time. Bioimpedance measurements can be used to characterize and evaluate the establishment of a valid disease model, without the need for invasive end-point biochemical assays. In this work, two stem cell-based disease models-on-a-chip are proposed for acute liver failure (ALF) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The ALF disease model-on-a-chip integrates impedance sensing with the highly-differentiated HepaRG cell line to monitor in real-time quantitative and dynamic response to various hepatotoxins. Bioimpedance analysis and modelling has revealed an unknown mechanism of paracetamol hepatotoxicity; a temporal, dose-dependent disruption of tight junctions (TJs) and cell-substrate adhesion. This disruption has been validated using ultrastructural imaging and immunostaining of the TJ-associated protein ZO-1. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world with a need for disease models for its currently incurable forms. Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) technology offers a novel approach for disease modelling, with the potential to impact translational retinal research and therapy. Recent developments enable the generation of Retinal Pigment Epithelial cells from patients (hiPSC-RPE), thus allowing for human retinal disease in vitro studies with great clinical and physiological relevance. In the current study, the development of a tissue-on- a-chip AMD disease model has been established using RPE generated from a patient with an inherited macular degeneration (case cell line) and from a healthy sibling (control cell line). A reproducible Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing (ECIS) electrical wounding assay was conducted to mimic RPE damage in AMD. First, a robust and reproducible real-time quantitative monitoring over a 25-day period demonstrated the establishment and maturation of RPE layers on microelectrodes. A spatially-controlled RPE layer damage that mimicked cell loss in AMD was then initiated. Post recovery, significant differences in migration rates were found between case and control cell lines. Data analysis and modelling suggested this was due to the lower cell-substrate adhesion of the control cell line. These findings were confirmed using cell adhesion biochemical assays. Moreover, different-sized, individually-addressed square microelectrode arrays with high spatial resolution were designed and fabricated in-house. ECIS wounding assays were performed on these chips to study immortalized RPE migration. Migration rates comparable to those obtained with ECIS circular microelectrodes were determined. The two proposed disease-models-on-a-chip were then used to explore the therapeutic potential of the antioxidant N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) on hiPSC-RPE and HepaRG cell recovery. Addition of 10 mM NAC at the end of a 24h paracetamol challenge caused a slight increase in the measured impedance, suggesting partial cell recovery. On the other hand, no effect on case hiPSC-RPE migration has been observed. More experiments are needed to examine the effect of different NAC concentrations and incubation periods. The therapeutic potential of electrical stimulation has also been explored. A preliminary study to evaluate the effect of electrical stimulation on RPE migration has been conducted. An externally applied direct current electric field (DC EF) of 300 mV/mm was found to direct the migration of the immortalized RPE cell line (hTERT-RPE1) perpendicular to the EF. The cells were also observed to elongate and to realign their long axes perpendicular to the applied EF. The proposed tissue-on-a-chip disease models are powerful platforms for translational studies. The potential of such platforms has been demonstrated through revealing unknown effects of acetaminophen on the liver as well as providing deeper insights into the underlying mechanisms of macular degeneration. Combining stem cell technology with impedance sensing provides a high throughput platform for studying patient-specific diseases and evaluating potential therapies.