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8th Combined Meeting Of Orthopaedic Research Societies (CORS)


Summary Statement

Flow chambers have been implemented in stem cell research to apply controlled dilational (volume changing) and deviatoric (shape changing) mechanical cues to living cells. Studies implementing such chambers demonstrate that controlled delivery of mechanical cues correlates strongly to changes in stem cell shape, structure, and fate.


A custom designed flow chamber, capable of delivering highly controlled stresses at the cellular scale, enables the study of flow-induced normal and shear stresses on cell behavior. Specifically, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and multiphysics modeling (coupling of CFD with finite element models) allow for controlled delivery of mechanical cues via fluid flow and cell seeding protocols, concomitant to optical mapping of cell displacements due to mechanical load, and calculation of flow velocities, imbued stresses, and cellular strains within a given volume of interest. Akin to conducting a mechanical loading test on single cells and groups of cells, paired experimental and computational experiments using the custom-designed chamber enabled calculation of the flow field's effect on the cell(s) as well as the cells’ effect on the flow field, a critical step in predicting the local stress and strain fields at the cell-fluid interface within the chamber, during exposure to fluid flow. These stresses-strains experienced by stem cells demonstrate significant correlation to cell gene expression, and strongly suggest that stresses at the cell-fluid interface influence cell fate. The current study uses a parametric approach to define next steps to prospectively guide mechanically-modulated lineage commitment.


An experimentally validated, coupled computational fluid dynamics (CFD) finite element (FEM) model has elucidated the local mechanical environment at live cell surfaces during exposure to normal and shear stresses imparted by flow. The current study tests this model parametrically, assessing sensitivity of predicted stress-strain-fate relationships to estimates of cells’ mechanical properties, and prioritizing experiments for prospective mapping of the mechanome.


Results indicate that an accurate estimation of the cell's elastic modulus is critical for exact measurements of cell surface stresses and strains. However, an accurate estimation of the cell's Poisson's ratio is less critical for measurement validity. Furthermore, the application of a low pressure gradient to cells at high density maximises precise delivery of a range of mechanical cues. While next stage experiments can begin to map the stem cell mechanome, modifications to the current experimental setup will increase the range of deliverable stresses as well as the precision of these stresses.


Overall, the results of this study demonstrate the regions of the mechanome that can be experimentally assessed with current approaches, as well as the precision of these assessments, through the control of cell seeding density, pressure gradient, and fluid viscosity.