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Staff member

Javier Ramón Azcón

Group Leader / ICREA Research Professor
+34 934 02 45 84
jramonibecbarcelona.eu
CV Summary
Javier Ramon got his PhD in the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Barcelona (UB). Posteriorly during their post-doc stay, he was working under the direction of professor Mizutani at Hyogo University in Japan on lithography fabrication, microfluidics and dielectrophoresis technic (2009-2011). After their post-doctoral stay (2011), he was hired by the Advanced Institute for Materials Research (AIMR) at Tohoku University as Assistant Researcher. The AIMR-WPI institute is Japan's third most relevant institute and one worldwide material science reference. He joined the group of Prof. Matsue in the device/systems group, and in April 2013, he was promoted to Assistant Professor. In 2015 he joined as Ramon y Cajal researcher IBEC. In 2020, he became an ICREA Research Professor and is now leading the Biosensors for Bioengineering group, focused on integrating fully functional tissues with microscale biosensor technology to obtain "organs-on-a-chip".
Staff member publications

Manzano-Muñoz A, Yeste J, Ortega MA, Samitier J, Ramón-Azcón J, Montero J, (2024). A New Microfluidic Device to Facilitate Functional Precision Medicine Assays Methods In Molecular Biology 2748, 99-108

Functional precision medicine (FPM) has emerged as a new approach to improve cancer treatment. Despite its potential, FPM assays present important limitations such as the number of cells and trained personnel required. To overcome these impediments, here we describe a novel microfluidic platform that can be used to perform FPM assays, optimizing the use of primary cancer cells and simplifying the process by using microfluidics to automatize the process.© 2024. The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.

JTD Keywords: Cancer treatment, Functional assays, Microfluidics, Precision medicine


Fernández-Costa JM, Tejedera-Vilafranca A, Fernández-Garibay X, Ramón-Azcón J, (2023). Muscle-on-a-chip devices: a new era for in vitro modelling of muscular dystrophies Disease Models & Mechanisms 16, dmm050107

Muscular dystrophies are a heterogeneous group of highly debilitating diseases that result in muscle atrophy and weakness. The lack of suitable cellular and animal models that reproduce specific aspects of their pathophysiology is one of the reasons why there are no curative treatments for these disorders. This highlights a considerable gap between current laboratory models and clinical practice. We strongly believe that organs-on-chip could help to fill this gap. Organs-on-chip, and in particular muscles-on-chip, are microfluidic devices that integrate functional skeletal muscle tissues. Biosensors in these systems allow monitoring of muscle homeostasis or drug responses in situ. This Perspective outlines the potential of organs-on-chip as advanced models for muscular dystrophies, as well as the current challenges and future opportunities for this technology.© 2023. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.

JTD Keywords: cell, tissue, Skeletal-muscle


Fernández-Costa, JM, Ortega, MA, Rodríguez-Comas, J, Lopez-Muñoz, G, Yeste, J, Mangas-Florencio, L, Fernández-González, M, Martin-Lasierra, E, Tejedera-Villafranca, A, Ramon-Azcon, J, (2023). Training-on-a-Chip: A MultiOrgan Device to Study the Effect of Muscle Exercise on Insulin Secretion in Vitro Advanced Materials Technologies 8, 2200873

Fontcuberta-PiSunyer M, García-Alamán A, Prades È, Téllez N, Alves-Figueiredo H, Ramos-Rodríguez M, Enrich C, Fernandez-Ruiz R, Cervantes S, Clua L, Ramón-Azcón J, Broca C, Wojtusciszyn A, Montserrat N, Pasquali L, Novials A, Servitja JM, Vidal J, Gomis R, Gasa R, (2023). Direct reprogramming of human fibroblasts into insulin-producing cells using transcription factors Commun Biol 6, 256

Direct lineage reprogramming of one somatic cell into another without transitioning through a progenitor stage has emerged as a strategy to generate clinically relevant cell types. One cell type of interest is the pancreatic insulin-producing β cell whose loss and/or dysfunction leads to diabetes. To date it has been possible to create β-like cells from related endodermal cell types by forcing the expression of developmental transcription factors, but not from more distant cell lineages like fibroblasts. In light of the therapeutic benefits of choosing an accessible cell type as the cell of origin, in this study we set out to analyze the feasibility of transforming human skin fibroblasts into β-like cells. We describe how the timed-introduction of five developmental transcription factors (Neurog3, Pdx1, MafA, Pax4, and Nkx2-2) promotes conversion of fibroblasts toward a β-cell fate. Reprogrammed cells exhibit β-cell features including β-cell gene expression and glucose-responsive intracellular calcium mobilization. Moreover, reprogrammed cells display glucose-induced insulin secretion in vitro and in vivo. This work provides proof-of-concept of the capacity to make insulin-producing cells from human fibroblasts via transcription factor-mediated direct reprogramming.© 2023. The Author(s).

JTD Keywords: adult, beta-cells, differentiation, direct conversion, genes, in-vivo, islets, maturation, pancreatic progenitors, Pluripotent stem-cells


Ugarte-Orozco, MJ, Lopez-Munoz, GA, Antonio-Perez, A, Esquivel-Ortiz, KM, Ramon-Azcon, J, (2023). High-throughput biointerfaces for direct, label-free, and multiplexed metaplasmonic biosensing Current Research In Biotechnology 5, 100119

In recent years, metaplasmonic biosensors have emerged as a novel counterpart of well-established plasmonic biosensors based on thin metallic layers. Metaplasmonic biosensors offer high potential for sensor miniaturiza-tion, extreme sensitivity biosensing, and high multiplexing capabilities with detection methods free of coupling optical elements. These capabilities make metaplasmonic biosensors highly attractive for Point-of-Care and handled/portable devices or novel On-Chip devices; as a result, it has increased the number of prototypes and potential applications that emerged during the last years. One of the main challenges to achieving fully operative devices is the achievement of high-throughput biointerfaces for sensitive and selective biodetection in complex media. Despite the superior surface sensitivity achieved by metaplasmonic sensors compared to conventional plasmonic sensors based on metallic thin films, the main limitations to achieving high-throughput and multiplexed biosensing usually are associated with the sensitivity and selectivity of the bioin-terface and, as a consequence, their application to the direct analysis of real complex samples. This graphical review discusses the potential challenges and capabilities of different biofunctionalization strategies, biorecog-nition elements, and antifouling strategies to achieve scalable and high-throughput metaplasmonic biosensing for Point-of-Care devices and bioengineering applications like Organs-On-Chip.

JTD Keywords: Biointerfaces, Biosensing, Biosensors, Cell culture monitoring, Metaplasmonic, Nanoplasmonic, Organ-on-chip, Point-of-care


Manzano-Muñoz A, Yeste J, Ortega MA, Martín F, López A, Rosell J, Castro S, Serrano C, Samitier J, Ramón-Azcón J, Montero J, (2022). Microfluidic-based dynamic BH3 profiling predicts anticancer treatment efficacy Npj Precis Oncol 6, 90

Precision medicine is starting to incorporate functional assays to evaluate anticancer agents on patient-isolated tissues or cells to select for the most effective. Among these new technologies, dynamic BH3 profiling (DBP) has emerged and extensively been used to predict treatment efficacy in different types of cancer. DBP uses synthetic BH3 peptides to measure early apoptotic events ('priming') and anticipate therapy-induced cell death leading to tumor elimination. This predictive functional assay presents multiple advantages but a critical limitation: the cell number requirement, that limits drug screening on patient samples, especially in solid tumors. To solve this problem, we developed an innovative microfluidic-based DBP (µDBP) device that overcomes tissue limitations on primary samples. We used microfluidic chips to generate a gradient of BIM BH3 peptide, compared it with the standard flow cytometry based DBP, and tested different anticancer treatments. We first examined this new technology's predictive capacity using gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) cell lines, by comparing imatinib sensitive and resistant cells, and we could detect differences in apoptotic priming and anticipate cytotoxicity. We then validated µDBP on a refractory GIST patient sample and identified that the combination of dactolisib and venetoclax increased apoptotic priming. In summary, this new technology could represent an important advance for precision medicine by providing a fast, easy-to-use and scalable microfluidic device to perform DBP in situ as a routine assay to identify the best treatment for cancer patients.© 2022. The Author(s).

JTD Keywords: biomarkers, cancer drugs, chemotherapy, chip, models, platform, sensitivity, strategy, tumor-cells, Precision medicine


Mughal, S, Lopez-Munoz, GA, Fernandez-Costa, JM, Cortes-Resendiz, A, De Chiara, F, Ramon-Azcon, J, (2022). Organs-on-Chips: Trends and Challenges in Advanced Systems Integration Advanced Materials Interfaces 9,

Organ-on-chip platforms combined with high-throughput sensing technology allow bridging gaps in information presented by 2D cultures modeled on static microphysiological systems. While these platforms do not aim to replicate whole organ systems with all physiological nuances, they try to mimic relevant structural, physiological, and functional features of organoids and tissues to best model disease and/or healthy states. The advent of this platform has not only challenged animal testing but has also presented the opportunity to acquire real-time, high-throughput data about the pathophysiology of disease progression by employing biosensors. Biosensors allow monitoring of the release of relevant biomarkers and metabolites as a result of physicochemical stress. It, therefore, helps conduct quick lead validation to achieve personalized medicine objectives. The organ-on-chip industry is currently embarking on an exponential growth trajectory. Multiple pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are adopting this technology to enable quick patient-specific data acquisition at substantially low costs.

JTD Keywords: A-chip, Biosensor, Biosensors, Cancer, Cells, Culture, Disease models, Epithelial electrical-resistance, Hydrogel, Microfabrication, Microphysiological systems, Models, Niches, Organ-on-a-chips, Platform


Fernandez-Costa, J, Tejedera-Villafranca, A, Ramon-Azcon, J, (2022). Duchenne muscular dystrophy functional muscle organoid-on-a-chip for potential therapies evaluation (FP.41) Neuromuscular Disorders 32, S125-S125

Clua-Ferre, L, De Chiara, F, Rodriguez-Comas, J, Comelles, J, Martinez, E, Godeau, AL, Garcia-Alaman, A, Gasa, R, Ramon-Azcon, J, (2022). Collagen-Tannic Acid Spheroids for beta-Cell Encapsulation Fabricated Using a 3D Bioprinter Advanced Materials Technologies 7, 2101696

Type 1 Diabetes results from autoimmune response elicited against β-cell antigens. Nowadays, insulin injections remain the leading therapeutic option. However, injection treatment fails to emulate the highly dynamic insulin release that β-cells provide. 3D cell-laden microspheres have been proposed during the last years as a major platform for bioengineering insulin-secreting constructs for tissue graft implantation and a model for in vitro drug screening platforms. Current microsphere fabrication technologies have several drawbacks: the need for an oil phase containing surfactants, diameter inconsistency of the microspheres, and high time-consuming processes. These technologies have widely used alginate for its rapid gelation, high processability, and low cost. However, its low biocompatible properties do not provide effective cell attachment. This study proposes a high-throughput methodology using a 3D bioprinter that employs an ECM-like microenvironment for effective cell-laden microsphere production to overcome these limitations. Crosslinking the resulting microspheres with tannic acid prevents collagenase degradation and enhances spherical structural consistency while allowing the diffusion of nutrients and oxygen. The approach allows customization of microsphere diameter with extremely low variability. In conclusion, a novel bio-printing procedure is developed to fabricate large amounts of reproducible microspheres capable of secreting insulin in response to extracellular glucose stimuli.© 2022 The Authors. Advanced Materials Technologies published by Wiley‐VCH GmbH.

JTD Keywords: 3d bioprinter, beta-cell, biomaterial, collagen, encapsulation, mechanics, microspheres, survival, 3d bioprinter, ?-cell, Advanced material technologies, Biocompatibility, Cell encapsulations, Cells, Collagen, Cross-linking, Cytology, Drug delivery, Encapsulation, Fabrication, Flavonoids, Gelation, In-vitro, Insulin injections, Insulin release, Microspheres, Tannic acid, Tannins, Throughput, Tissue grafts, Type 1 diabetes, Β‐cell


Lopez-Muñoz GA, Mughal S, Ramón-Azcón J, (2022). Sensors and Biosensors in Organs-on-a-Chip Platforms Advances In Experimental Medicine And Biology 1379, 55-80

Biosensors represent a powerful analytical tool for analyzing biomolecular interactions with the potential to achieve real-time quantitative analysis with high accuracy using low sample volumes, minimum sample pretreatment with high potential for the development of in situ and highly integrated monitoring platforms. Considering these advantages, their use in cell-culture systems has increased over the last few years. Between the different technologies for cell culture, organs-on-a-chip (OOCs) represent a novel technology that tries to mimic an organ's functionality by combining tissue engineering/organoid with microfluidics. Although there are still challenges to achieving OOC models with high organ mimicking relevance, these devices can offer effective models for drug treatment development by identifying drug targets, screening toxicity, and determining the potential effects of drugs in living beings. Consequently, in the future, we might replace animal studies by offering more ethical test models. Considering the relevance that different physiological and biochemical parameters have in the correct functionality of cells, sensing and biosensing platforms can offer an effective way for the real-time monitoring of physiological parameters and, in our opinion, more relevant, the secretion of biomarkers such as cytokines, growth factors, and others related with the influence of drugs or other types of stimulus in cell metabolism. Keeping this concept in mind, in this chapter, we focus on describing the potential use of sensors and biosensors in OOC devices to achieve fully integrated platforms that monitor physiological parameters and cell metabolism.© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.

JTD Keywords: alignment, biosensors, cell, crystal microbalance biosensor, electrochemical biosensors, future, graphene oxide, label-free detection, organ-on-a-chip, oxygen, pre-clinical platforms, real-time analysis, screening, Biosensors, Organ-on-a-chip, Pre-clinical platforms, Screening, Sensors, Surface-plasmon resonance


López Muñoz, Gerardo, Cortés-Reséndiz, Armando, Ramón-Azcón, Javier, Rydosz, Artur, (2022). Scalable, Lithography-Free Plasmonic Metasurfaces by Nano-Patterned/Sculpted Thin Films for Biosensing Frontiers In Sensors 22, 945525

Fernandez-Garibay, X, Ortega, MA, Cerro-Herreros, E, Comelles, J, Martinez, E, Artero, R, Fernandez-Costa, JM, Ramon-Azcon, J, (2022). BIOENGINEERED IN VITRO 3D MODEL OF MYOTONIC DYSTROPHY TYPE 1 HUMAN SKELETAL MUSCLE (Abstract 2087) Tissue Engineering Part a 28, S591-S591

Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) is the most common hereditarymyopathy in adults. The disease is characterized by progressiveskeletal muscle degeneration that produces severe disability. There isstill no effective treatment for DM1 patients, but new therapeuticstrategies are being tested. Animal models and in vitro 2D cell cul-tures have been essential for these advances. However, these modelscannot reproduce the biological complexity of the disease. Biofab-rication tools can be applied to engineer human 3D culture systemsthat complement current preclinical research models.Here, we describe the development of the first in vitro 3D model ofDM1 human skeletal muscle. Patient-derived cells were encapsulatedin micromolded gelatin methacryloyl-carboxymethyl cellulose meth-acrylate (GelMA-CMCMA) hydrogels through photomold patterning.These hydrogels present a microstructured topography that promotesmyoblast alignment and differentiation, resulting in highly alignedmyotubes from healthy and DM1 cells. The DM1 3D microtissuespresent the molecular alterations detected in patient biopsies. Im-portantly, fusion index analyses demonstrate that 3D micropatterningsignificantly improved DM1 cell differentiation into multinucleatedmyotubes compared to standard cell cultures. Moreover, character-ization of the 3D cultures of DM1 myotubes detects a reduced thick-ness of myotubes that can be used for drug screening. Therefore, weevaluated the therapeutic effect of antagomiR-23b administration onbioengineered DM1 skeletal muscle microtissues. AntagomiR-23btreatment rescues both molecular DM1 hallmarks and structural phe-notype, restoring myotube diameter to healthy control sizes. Overall,these new microtissues represent an improvement over conventionalmodels and can be used as biomimetic platforms to establish preclin-ical studies for myotonic dystrophy.

JTD


Tejedera-Villafranca, A, Mangas-Florencio, L, Yeste, J, Ramon-Azcon, J, Fernandez-Costa, JM, (2022). A FUNCTIONAL 3D SKELETAL MUSCLE MODEL FOR DUCHENNE MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY FOR THE EVALUATION OF POTENTIAL THERAPIES (Abstract 2157) Tissue Engineering Part a 28, S612-S612

Research into the development of therapeutic strategies is basedmainly on animal models and cell cultures. The ability to extrapolatedata from them is limited, and research on new drugs cannot beperformed efficiently. This is especially dramatic in rare diseases,which are intrinsically very heterogeneous. The generation of ad-vanced models using tissue engineering and patient-derived cellsallows fabricating new platforms for studying pathological processesand discovering new potential drugs. Here, we developed a patient-derived 3D functional skeletal muscle for Duchenne muscular dys-trophy (DMD). DMD is the most prevalent neuromuscular diseasediagnosed during childhood. The disease is characterized by pro-gressive degeneration of skeletal and cardiac muscle caused by thelack of dystrophin protein. Although there are several molecules indrug development for DMD, there is no treatment available for pa-tients to date. By using a 3D-printed casting mold, we encapsulatedpatient-derived myogenic precursor cells in a fibrin-composite ma-trix. This platform incorporated two flexible T-shaped pillars thatprovided continuous tension to the tissue, thus allowing the orien-tation of the muscle fibers. Our 3D muscle model expressed maturemuscle markers and responded to electric pulse stimulation (EPS).Besides, contraction dynamics between DMD and control tissueswere shown to be different. Moreover, an increase of damagemarkers after EPS was observed in DMD but not in healthy tissues.Finally, the tissues will be integrated into a microfluidic device tomonitor drug administration. Eventually, the microfluidic systemwill be connected to a biosensors system for the real-time detectionof biomarkers.

JTD Keywords: Casting, Contraction dynamics, Muscular dystrophy


Rodriguez-Comas, J, Velasco-Mallorqui, F, Ramon-Azcon, J, (2022). CELLULOSE-BASED SCAFFOLDS ENHANCE PSEUDOISLETS FORMATION AND FUNCTIONALITY (Abstract 2021) Tissue Engineering Part a 28, S573-S573

The limitations of obtaining pancreatic islets from differentsources as animal models or human donors complicate the study oftype 2 diabetes (T2D) in vitro. Immortalized cell lines as the in-sulin-producing INS1Eb-cells appeared as a valid alternative tomodel insulin-related diseases. The formation of 3D structures topromote cell aggregations from single cells is a handy tool togenerate resemblance islet-like pseudoislets. Traditionally usedhydrogel encapsulation methods induce a lack of nutrient and ox-ygen diffusion for pancreatic tissue engineering. Here, we usecryogelation technology to develop a more resemblance scaffoldwith the mechanical and physical properties needed to engineerpancreatic tissue. This study shows that carboxymethyl cellulose(CMC) cryogels prompted cells to generateb-cell clusters. Thehigh porosity achieved with this approach allowed us to createspecific range pseudoislets. However, gelatin-based scaffolds didnot induce this cell organization. Pseudoislets formed within CMC-scaffolds showed cell viability for up to 7 days and responded betterto the glucose over conventional monolayer cultures. Overall, ourresults demonstrate that CMC-scaffolds can be used to control theorganization and function of insulin-producingb-cells, represent-ing a suitable technique to generateb-cell clusters to study pan-creatic islet function.

JTD Keywords: Cellulose, Cryogel, Diabetes


Rodríguez-Comas, Júlia, Ramón-Azcón, Javier, (2022). Islet-on-a-chip for the study of pancreatic beta-cell function In Vitro Models 1, 41-57

Diabetes mellitus is a significant public health problem worldwide. It encompasses a group of chronic disorders characterized by hyperglycemia, resulting from pancreatic islet dysfunction or as a consequence of insulin-producing ?-cell death. Organ-on-a-chip platforms have emerged as technological systems combining cell biology, engineering, and biomaterial technological advances with microfluidics to recapitulate a specific organ’s physiological or pathophysiological environment. These devices offer a novel model for the screening of pharmaceutical agents and to study a particular disease. In the field of diabetes, a variety of microfluidic devices have been introduced to recreate native islet microenvironments and to understand pancreatic ?-cell kinetics in vitro. This kind of platforms has been shown fundamental for the study of the islet function and to assess the quality of these islets for subsequent in vivo transplantation. However, islet physiological systems are still limited compared to other organs and tissues, evidencing the difficulty to study this “organ” and the need for further technological advances. In this review, we summarize the current state of islet-on-a-chip platforms that have been developed so far. We recapitulate the most relevant studies involving pancreatic islets and microfluidics, focusing on the molecular and cellular-scale activities that underlie pancreatic ?-cell function.

JTD Keywords: pancreatic islets, Diabetes, Microchips, Microfluidics


Vila, JC, Castro-Aguirre, N, Lopez-Munoz, GA, Ferret-Minana, A, De Chiara, F, Ramon-Azcon, J, (2021). Disposable Polymeric Nanostructured Plasmonic Biosensors for Cell Culture Adhesion Monitoring Frontiers In Bioengineering And Biotechnology 9, 799325

Over the last years, optical biosensors based on plasmonic nanomaterials have gained great scientific interest due to their unquestionable advantages compared to other biosensing technologies. They can achieve sensitive, direct, and label-free analysis with exceptional potential for multiplexing and miniaturization. Recently, it has been demonstrated the potential of using optical discs as high throughput nanotemplates for the development of plasmonic biosensors in a cost-effective way. This work is a pilot study focused on the development of an integrated plasmonic biosensor for the monitoring of cell adhesion and growth of human retinal pigmented cell line (ARPE-19) under different media conditions (0 and 2% of FBS). We observed an increase of the plasmonic band displacement under 2% FBS compared to 0% conditions over time (1, 3, and 5 h). These preliminary results show that the proposed plasmonic biosensing approach is a direct, non-destructive, and real-time tool that could be employed in the study of living cells behavior and culture conditions. Furthermore, this setup could assess the viability of the cells and their growth over time with low variability between the technical replicates improving the experimental replicability.

JTD Keywords: cell confluency, cell culture, nanocrystals, optical biosensor, Adhesion monitoring, Biosensing, Biosensors, Cell adhesion, Cell confluency, Cell culture, Cells, Condition, Cost effectiveness, Disposables, Nano-structured, Nanocrystals, Optical bio-sensors, Optical biosensor, Plasmonic biosensors, Plasmonic nanostructures, Plasmonics, Polylysine


Nashimoto, Y, Abe, M, Fujii, R, Taira, N, Ida, H, Takahashi, Y, Ino, K, Ramon-Azcon, J, Shiku, H, (2021). Topography and Permeability Analyses of Vasculature-on-a-Chip Using Scanning Probe Microscopies Advanced Healthcare Materials 10, 2101186

Microphysiological systems (MPS) or organs-on-chips (OoC) can emulate the physiological functions of organs in vitro and are effective tools for determining human drug responses in preclinical studies. However, the analysis of MPS has relied heavily on optical tools, resulting in difficulties in real-time and high spatial resolution imaging of the target cell functions. In this study, the role of scanning probe microscopy (SPM) as an analytical tool for MPS is evaluated. An access hole is made in a typical MPS system with stacked microchannels to insert SPM probes into the system. For the first study, a simple vascular model composed of only endothelial cells is prepared for SPM analysis. Changes in permeability and local chemical flux are quantitatively evaluated during the construction of the vascular system. The morphological changes in the endothelial cells after flow stimulation are imaged at the single-cell level for topographical analysis. Finally, the possibility of adapting the permeability and topographical analysis using SPM for the intestinal vascular system is further evaluated. It is believed that this study will pave the way for an in situ permeability assay and structural analysis of MPS using SPM.

JTD Keywords: cell, electrochemical microscopy, membrane-permeability, microphysiological systems, organs-chips, platform, scanning electrochemical microscopy, scanning ion conductance microscopy, scanning probe microscopy, shear-stress, surface-topography, Ion conductance microscopy, Microphysiological systems, Organs-chips, Scanning electrochemical microscopy, Scanning ion conductance microscopy, Scanning probe microscopy


Velasco-Mallorqui, F, Rodriguez-Comas, J, Ramon-Azcon, J, (2021). Cellulose-based scaffolds enhance pseudoislets formation and functionality Biofabrication 13, 35044

In vitro research for the study of type 2 diabetes (T2D) is frequently limited by the availability of a functional model for islets of Langerhans. To overcome the limitations of obtaining pancreatic islets from different sources, such as animal models or human donors, immortalized cell lines as the insulin-producing INS1E beta-cells have appeared as a valid alternative to model insulin-related diseases. However, immortalized cell lines are mainly used in flat surfaces or monolayer distributions, not resembling the spheroid-like architecture of the pancreatic islets. To generate islet-like structures, the use of scaffolds appeared as a valid tool to promote cell aggregations. Traditionally-used hydrogel encapsulation methods do not accomplish all the requisites for pancreatic tissue engineering, as its poor nutrient and oxygen diffusion induces cell death. Here, we use cryogelation technology to develop a more resemblance scaffold with the mechanical and physical properties needed to engineer pancreatic tissue. This study shows that carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) cryogels prompted cells to generate beta-cell clusters in comparison to gelatin-based scaffolds, that did not induce this cell organization. Moreover, the high porosity achieved with CMC cryogels allowed us to create specific range pseudoislets. Pseudoislets formed within CMC-scaffolds showed cell viability for up to 7 d and a better response to glucose over conventional monolayer cultures. Overall, our results demonstrate that CMC-scaffolds can be used to control the organization and function of insulin-producing beta-cells, representing a suitable technique to generate beta-cell clusters to study pancreatic islet function.

JTD Keywords: biomaterial, cryogel, pancreatic islets, scaffold, tissue engineering, ?-cell, Architecture, Beta-cell, Beta-cell heterogeneity, Biomaterial, Carboxymethyl cellulose, Cell culture, Cell death, Cell engineering, Cell organization, Cells, Cellulose, Cryogel, Cryogels, Cytoarchitecture, Delivery, Encapsulation methods, Gelation, Gene-expression, Immortalized cells, Insulin, Insulin secretory responses, Islets of langerhans, Mechanical and physical properties, Monolayer culture, Monolayers, Pancreatic islets, Pancreatic tissue, Pancreatic-islets, Proliferation, Scaffold, Scaffolds, Scaffolds (biology), Size, Tissue, Tissue engineering, Β-cell


Parra-Monreal V, Ortega-Machuca MA, Ramon-Azcon J, Svendsen W, Romano-Rodriguez A, Moreno-Sereno M, (2021). Detection of cytokines in skeletal muscle tissue using optical SPR sensing platform Proceedings Of The 2021 13th Spanish Conference On Electron Devices, Cde 2021 , 102-105

In this work we have explored the use of a Surface Plasmon resonance (SPR) phenomenon for the detection of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory cytokine. It plays an important role in the muscle tissues, having direct relation with muscle contraction and, thus, it is considered a biomarker for some types of muscular dystrophies. Here we show that SPR can be used as a real-time monitoring of the shift of the reflectance dip of a gold diffraction grating in front to the antibody adhesion to gold.

JTD Keywords: antibodies, gratings, interleukin-6 (il-6), proteins, Antibodies, Gratings, Interleukin-6 (il-6), Proteins, Surface plasmon resonance


Gómez-Domínguez, D., Epifano, C., Miguel, F., Castaño, A. G., Vilaplana-Martí, B., Martín, A., Amarilla-Quintana, S., Bertrand, A. T., Bonne, G., Ramón-Azcón, J., Rodríguez-Milla, M. A., Pérez de Castro, I., (2020). Consequences of Lmna exon 4 mutations in myoblast function Cells 9, (5), 1286

Laminopathies are causally associated with mutations on the Lamin A/C gene (LMNA). To date, more than 400 mutations in LMNA have been reported in patients. These mutations are widely distributed throughout the entire gene and are associated with a wide range of phenotypes. Unfortunately, little is known about the mechanisms underlying the effect of the majority of these mutations. This is the case of more than 40 mutations that are located at exon 4. Using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, we generated a collection of Lmna exon 4 mutants in mouse C2C12 myoblasts. These cell models included different types of exon 4 deletions and the presence of R249W mutation, one of the human variants associated with a severe type of laminopathy, LMNA-associated congenital muscular dystrophy (L-CMD). We characterized these clones by measuring their nuclear circularity, myogenic differentiation capacity in 2D and 3D conditions, DNA damage, and levels of p-ERK and p-AKT (phosphorylated Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1/3 and AKT serine/threonine kinase 1). Our results indicated that Lmna exon 4 mutants showed abnormal nuclear morphology. In addition, levels and/or subcellular localization of different members of the lamin and LINC (LInker of Nucleoskeleton and Cytoskeleton) complex were altered in all these mutants. Whereas no significant differences were observed for ERK and AKT activities, the accumulation of DNA damage was associated to the Lmna p.R249W mutant myoblasts. Finally, significant myogenic differentiation defects were detected in the Lmna exon 4 mutants. These results have key implications in the development of future therapeutic strategies for the treatment of laminopathies.

JTD Keywords: CRISPR, Laminopathy, LMNA, Nuclear envelope


Lopez-Muñoz, Gerardo A., Ortega, Maria Alejandra, Ferret-Miñana, Ainhoa, De Chiara, Francesco, Ramón-Azcón, Javier, (2020). Direct and label-free monitoring of albumin in 2D fatty liver disease model using plasmonic nanogratings Nanomaterials 10, (12), 2520

Non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD) is a metabolic disorder related to a chronic lipid accumulation within the hepatocytes. This disease is the most common liver disorder worldwide, and it is estimated that it is present in up to 25% of the world’s population. However, the real prevalence of this disease and the associated disorders is unknown mainly because reliable and applicable diagnostic tools are lacking. It is known that the level of albumin, a pleiotropic protein synthesized by hepatocytes, is correlated with the correct function of the liver. The development of a complementary tool that allows direct, sensitive, and label-free monitoring of albumin secretion in hepatocyte cell culture can provide insight into NAFLD’s mechanism and drug action. With this aim, we have developed a simple integrated plasmonic biosensor based on gold nanogratings from periodic nanostructures present in commercial Blu-ray optical discs. This sensor allows the direct and label-free monitoring of albumin in a 2D fatty liver disease model under flow conditions using a highly-specific polyclonal antibody. This technology avoids both the amplification and blocking steps showing a limit of detection within pM range (≈0.26 ng/mL). Thanks to this technology, we identified the optimal fetal bovine serum (FBS) concentration to maximize the cells’ lipid accumulation. Moreover, we discovered that the hepatocytes increased the amount of albumin secreted on the third day from the lipids challenge. These data demonstrate the ability of hepatocytes to respond to the lipid stimulation releasing more albumin. Further investigation is needed to unveil the biological significance of that cell behavior.

JTD Keywords: 2D fatty liver in vitro model, Blu-Ray disc, Plasmonic nanomaterials, Label-Free Biosensing


Velasco, Ferran, Fernandez-Costa, Juan M., Neves, Luisa, Ramon-Azcon, Javier, (2020). New volumetric CNT-doped Gelatin-Cellulose scaffold for skeletal muscle tissue engineering Nanoscale Advances 2, (7), 2885-2896

Currently, the fabrication of scaffolds for engineered skeletal muscle tissue is unable to reach the millimeter size. The main drawbacks are the poor nutrients diffusion, lack of internal structure to align precursor cells as well as poor mechanical and electric properties. Herein, we present a combination of gelatin-carboxymethyl cellulose materials polymerised by a cryogelation process that allowed us to reach scaffold fabrication up to millimeters size and solve the main problems related with large size muscle tissue constructs. 1) By incorporating carbon nanotubes (CNT) we can improve the electrical properties of the scaffold, thereby enhancing tissue maturation when applying an electric pulse stimulus (EPS). 2) We have fabricated an anisotropic internal three-dimensional microarchitecture pore distribution with high aligned morphology to enhance cells alignment, cell fusion and myotubes formation. With this set up, we were able to generate a fully functional skeletal muscle tissue using a combination of EPS and our doped-biocomposite scaffold and obtain a mature tissue in a millimeter scale. We also characterized pore distribution, swelling, stiffness and conductivity of the scaffold. Moreover, we proved that the cells are viable and able to fuse in a three-dimensional (3D) functional myotubes throughout the scaffold. In conclusion, we fabricate a biocompatible and customizable scaffold for 3D cell culture suitable for a wide range of application such as organ-on-a-chip, drug screening, transplantation and disease modelling.

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Hernández-Albors, Alejandro, Castaño, Albert G., Fernández-Garibay, Xiomara, Ortega, María Alejandra, Balaguer, Jordina, Ramón-Azcón, Javier, (2019). Microphysiological sensing platform for an in-situ detection of tissue-secreted cytokines Biosensors and Bioelectronics: X 2, 100025

Understanding the protein-secretion dynamics from single, specific tissues is critical toward the advancement of disease detection and treatments. However, such secretion dynamics remain difficult to measure in vivo due to the uncontrolled contributions from other tissue populations. Here, we describe an integrated platform designed for the reliable, near real-time measurements of cytokines secreted from an in vitro single-tissue model. In our setup, we grow 3D biomimetic tissues to discretize cytokine source, and we separate them from a magnetic microbead-based biosensing system using a Transwell insert. This design integrates physiochemically controlled biological activity, high-sensitivity protein detection (LOD < 20 pg mL−1), and rapid protein diffusion to enable non-invasive, near real-time measurements. To showcase the specificity and sensitivity of the system, we use our setup to probe the inflammatory process related to the protein Interleukine 6 (IL-6) and to the Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF-α). We show that our setup can monitor the time-dependence profile of IL-6 and TNF-α secretion that results from the electrical and chemical stimulation of 3D skeletal muscle tissues. We demonstrate a novel and affordable methodology for discretizing the secretion kinetics of specific tissues for advancing metabolic-disorder studies and drug-screening applications.

JTD Keywords: Microphysiological tissues, Tissue engineering, Electrochemical, biosensors, Magnetic particles, Skeletal muscle, Electric stimulation


Ortega, María A., Fernández-Garibay, Xiomara, Castaño, Albert G., De Chiara, Francesco, Hernández-Albors, Alejandro, Balaguer-Trias, Jordina, Ramón-Azcón, Javier, (2019). Muscle-on-a-chip with an on-site multiplexed biosensing system for in situ monitoring of secreted IL-6 and TNF-α Lab on a Chip 19, 2568-2580

Despite the increasing number of organs-on-a-chip that have been developed in the past decade, limited efforts have been made to integrate a sensing system for in situ continual measurements of biomarkers from three-dimensional (3D) tissues. Here, we present a custom-made integrated platform for muscle cell stimulation under fluidic conditions connected with a multiplexed high-sensitivity electrochemical sensing system for in situ monitoring. To demonstrate this, we use our system to measure the release levels and release time of interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha in vitro by 3D muscle microtissue under electrical and biological stimulations. Our experimental design has enabled us to perform multiple time point measurements using functionalized screen-printed gold electrodes with sensitivity in the ng mL−1 range. This affordable setup is uniquely suited for monitoring factors released by 3D single cell types upon external stimulation for metabolic studies.

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De Chiara, F., Checcllo, C. U., Ramón-Azcón, J., (2019). High protein diet and metabolic plasticity in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: Myths and truths Nutrients 11, (12), 2985

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is characterized by lipid accumulation within the liver affecting 1 in 4 people worldwide. As the new silent killer of the twenty-first century, NAFLD impacts on both the request and the availability of new liver donors. The liver is the first line of defense against endogenous and exogenous metabolites and toxins. It also retains the ability to switch between different metabolic pathways according to food type and availability. This ability becomes a disadvantage in obesogenic societies where most people choose a diet based on fats and carbohydrates while ignoring vitamins and fiber. The chronic exposure to fats and carbohydrates induces dramatic changes in the liver zonation and triggers the development of insulin resistance. Common believes on NAFLD and different diets are based either on epidemiological studies, or meta-analysis, which are not controlled evidences; in most of the cases, they are biased on test-subject type and their lifestyles. The highest success in reverting NAFLD can be attributed to diets based on high protein instead of carbohydrates. In this review, we discuss the impact of NAFLD on body metabolic plasticity. We also present a detailed analysis of the most recent studies that evaluate high-protein diets in NAFLD with a special focus on the liver and the skeletal muscle protein metabolisms.

JTD Keywords: High protein diet, Low carbohydrates, NAFLD, NASH, Physical activity


de Goede, M., Dijkstra, M., Obregón, R., Ramón-Azcón, J., Martínez, Elena, Padilla, L., Mitjans, F., Garcia-Blanco, S. M., (2019). Al2O3 microring resonators for the detection of a cancer biomarker in undiluted urine Optics Express 27, (13), 18508-18521

Concentrations down to 3 nM of the rhS100A4 protein, associated with human tumor development, have been detected in undiluted urine using an integrated sensor based on microring resonators in the emerging Al2O3 photonic platform. The fabricated microrings were designed for operation in the C-band (λ = 1565 nm) and exhibited a high-quality factor in air of 3.2 × 105. The bulk refractive index sensitivity of the devices was ~100 nm/RIU (for TM polarization) with a limit of detection of ~10−6 RIU. A surface functionalization protocol was developed to allow for the selective binding of the monoclonal antibodies designed to capture the target biomarker to the surface of the Al2O3 microrings. The detection of rhS100A4 proteins at clinically relevant concentrations in urine is a big milestone towards the use of biosensors for the screening and early diagnosis of different cancers. Biosensors based on this microring technology can lead to portable, multiplexed and easy-to-use point of care devices.

JTD Keywords: Distributed feedback lasers, Effective refractive index, Laser coupling, Polarization maintaining fibers, Refractive index, Scanning electron microscopy


García-Lizarribar, Andrea, Fernández-Garibay, Xiomara, Velasco-Mallorquí, Ferran, Castaño, Albert G., Samitier, Josep, Ramon-Azcon, Javier, (2018). Composite biomaterials as long-lasting scaffolds for 3D bioprinting of highly aligned muscle tissue Macromolecular Bioscience 18, (10), 1800167

Abstract New biocompatible materials have enabled the direct 3D printing of complex functional living tissues, such as skeletal and cardiac muscle. Gelatinmethacryloyl (GelMA) is a photopolymerizable hydrogel composed of natural gelatin functionalized with methacrylic anhydride. However, it is difficult to obtain a single hydrogel that meets all the desirable properties for tissue engineering. In particular, GelMA hydrogels lack versatility in their mechanical properties and lasting 3D structures. In this work, a library of composite biomaterials to obtain versatile, lasting, and mechanically tunable scaffolds are presented. Two polysaccharides, alginate and carboxymethyl cellulose chemically functionalized with methacrylic anhydride, and a synthetic material, such as poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate are combined with GelMA to obtain photopolymerizable hydrogel blends. Physical properties of the obtained composite hydrogels are screened and optimized for the growth and development of skeletal muscle fibers from C2C12 murine cells, and compared with pristine GelMA. All these composites show high resistance to degradation maintaining the 3D structure with high fidelity over several weeks. Altogether, in this study a library of biocompatible novel and totally versatile composite biomaterials are developed and characterized, with tunable mechanical properties that give structure and support myotube formation and alignment.

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Mohammadi, M. H., Obregón, R., Ahadian, S., Ramón-Azcón, J., Radisic, M., (2017). Engineered muscle tissues for disease modeling and drug screening applications Current Pharmaceutical Design , 23, (20), 2991-3004

Animal models have been the main resources for drug discovery and prediction of drugs’ pharmacokinetic responses in the body. However, noticeable drawbacks associated with animal models include high cost, low reproducibility, low physiological similarity to humans, and ethical problems. Engineered tissue models have recently emerged as an alternative or substitute for animal models in drug discovery and testing and disease modeling. In this review, we focus on skeletal muscle and cardiac muscle tissues by first describing their characterization and physiology. Major fabrication technologies (i.e., electrospinning, bioprinting, dielectrophoresis, textile technology, and microfluidics) to make functional muscle tissues are then described. Finally, currently used muscle tissue models in drug screening are reviewed and discussed.

JTD Keywords: Cardiac muscle, Drug screening, Engineering muscle, Human pharmacological response, Physiological similarity, Skeletal muscle


Obregón, R., Ramón-Azcón, J., Ahadian, S., (2017). Nanofiber composites in blood vessel tissue engineering Nanofiber Composites for Biomedical Applications (ed. Ramalingam, M., Ramakrishna, S.), Elsevier (Duxford, UK) Woodhead Publishing Series in Biomaterials, 483-506

Tissue engineering (TE) aims to restore function or replace damaged tissue through biological principles and engineering. Nanofibers are attractive substrates for tissue regeneration applications because they structurally mimic the native extracellular matrix. Composite nanofibers, which are hybrid nanofibers blended from natural and synthetic polymers, represent a major advancement in TE and regenerative medicine, since they take advantage of the physical properties of the synthetic polymer and the bioactivity of the natural polymer while minimizing the disadvantages of both. Although various nanofibrous matrices have been applied to almost all the areas of TE, in this chapter we will focus on nanofiber composites scaffolds for vascular TE.

JTD Keywords: Blood vessels, Nanofiber composite, Tissue engineering, Vascularized tissue