Working group 1: 3-D cultures and bioprinting
WG1 sought to define complex ex vivo culture systems that may successfully replace the inefficient, low physiological 2D in vitro models. Typically these provide a static environment, with homogenous cell populations, cultured on 2D plastic or glass substrates.
The Group designed new organoid-like in vitro culture systems by combining 3D printing technology and different cell culture protocols. This aimed to reproduce in vitro models that closely mimic the physiological conditions of the specific tissues and organs. The obtained cultures will be characterised with analytical methods and tools that can work within the depth of 3D-tissue constructs. This should allow researchers to get the most information from 3D samples, through dedicated instruments (life confocal imaging with deep penetration optics in the z-axis and related software) and will be validated in vivo with the adequate tests.
Working group 2: cellular communication and mechanobiological cues
WG2 studied how cells react to stimuli deriving from cell-to-cell communications in addition to mechanical cues. This working group evaluated the multitude of cell membrane receptors, including integrins, microcilia and mechanosensitive ion channels, which are in turn inherently coupled to the internal organization of the cytoskeleton and to adhesion to surrounding cells and ECM.
The group focused on changes in cell shape and functional state in response to cell-cell contacts. Modifications of cell adherence properties induced by the surrounding environment and local mechanical stimulation were studied, with the related effects on cell differentiation.
The investigations looked at the application of mechanical stimuli, such as tension, compression and fluid flow.
Working group 3: chemobiological cues and epigenetic controls
This working group characterised chemical signals and gradients which cells are exposed to. These included proteins, exosomes and vesicles and their effects on cell functions.
The data collected was used to help create in vitro complex chemical environments, composed of precise molecule concentrations. These environments should better demonstrate how biological processes are affected by biomolecules and their localised density. Specific attention was paid to the role of exosome, that are believed to be important for intercellular communication (ie neuronal and embryo-maternal communication, inter-embryo communication and pathogenesis) as well as possible markers for disease.
This group focused on the mechanisms defining cell fate, driving epigenetic restriction and leading to the acquisition of a distinct cell phenotype.
Working group 4: dissemination and entrepreneurship
WG4 aimed to identify the “target audiences” that could benefit from the results from this action network. This working group looked to exchange information with Research Institutes, Centres of Excellence, Cell culture and Biotechnology industries as well as Academic Authorities, implementing scientific expertise within Europe.
A key aspect of WG4 activity was translating the research into a dissemination strategy that will reach local, regional and national health authorities and policy makers, trying to fill the gap between specialised research activities and non-specialized people. The WG prepared newsletters to encourage collaboration and synergies: a dedicated website and an “ad hoc” Facebook page hosted open discussion and shared information on 3D cell guidance in vitro models.
The Group was in charge of early stage researchers training to present their research to children in local school and set up “café scientifique” where to approach the public in a relaxed, informal atmosphere and encourage discussion and feedbacks on selected topics related to the action.
Due to the cutting edge of the research, the working group expected to find application in many different fields, from health sector to bio technology. One of WG4's missions was be to try and inspire many young scientists to become future entrepreneurs and attempt to establish their own “Small and medium-sized enterprise” (SME) and apply their scientific knowledge to create wealth and now jobs for EU.
All WGs contributed to the production of a book in the final year of the COST Action for further dissemination of the Action achievements.