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Costa Joana, Ghilardi Michele, Mamone Virginia, Ferrari Vincenzo, Busfield James J. C., Ahluwalia Arti, Carpi Federico "Bioreactor With Electrically Deformable Curved Membranes for Mechanical Stimulation of Cell Cultures," Frontiers in Bioengineerin

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Physiologically relevant in vitro models of stretchable biological tissues, such as muscle, lung, cardiac and gastro-intestinal tissues, should mimic the mechanical cues which cells are exposed to in their dynamic microenvironment in vivo. In particular, in order to mimic the mechanical stimulation of tissues in a physiologically relevant manner, cell stretching is often desirable on surfaces with dynamically controllable curvature. Here, we present a device that can deform cell culture membranes without the current need for external pneumatic/fluidic or electrical motors, which typically make the systems bulky and difficult to operate. We describe a modular device that uses elastomeric membranes, which can intrinsically be deformed by electrical means, producing a dynamically tuneable curvature. This approach leads to compact, self-contained, lightweight and versatile bioreactors, not requiring any additional mechanical equipment. This was obtained via a special type of dielectric elastomer actuator. The structure, operation and performance of early prototypes are described, showing preliminary evidence on their ability to induce changes on the spatial arrangement of the cytoskeleton of fibroblasts dynamically stretched for 8 h.