NASA researchers have developed a technology that yields three-dimensional (3D) tissue-like assemblies (TLAs) of human broncho-epithelial (HBE) cells for in vitro research on infection of humans by respiratory viruses. Compared to traditional two-dimensional (2D) monolayer cell culture, the 3D TLAs more accurately represent the active environment present in respiratory infections.
The TLAs were engineered in modeled microgravity using rotating wall vessel technology (pictured above) to mimic the characteristics of in vivo tissue. The TLAs were bioengineered onto collagen-coated cyclodextran beads using primary human mesenchymal bronchial-tracheal cells (HBTC) as the foundation matrix and an adult human broncho-epithelial immortalized cell line (BEAS-2B) as the overlying component.
The resulting TLAs share significant characteristics with in vivo human respiratory epithelium including polarization, tight junctions, desmosomes, and microvilli. The presence of tissue-like differentiation markers including villi, keratins, and specific lung epithelium markers, as well as the production of tissue mucin, furdrer confirm these TLAs have differentiated into tissues functionally like in vivo tissues. The assemblies mimic aspects of the human respiratory epithelium and provide a unique capability to study the interactions of respiratory viruses and their primary target tissue independent of the host’s immune system.
The method offers a cost-effective platform that functions like in vivo human tissue, reducing the need for human subject testing and supporting a more controlled testing environment free from immune system limitations. 3D TLAs provide an opportunity to study the tolerance to bioactive ingredients, the impacts of developing vaccinations on respiratory tissues, and other applications directed to product development for the cosmetics and textile industries.
NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact NASA’s Licensing Concierge at