Pasta la vista: a vegetarian approach to cell culture

Abstract: Tissue engineering not only offers potential therapeutic implications for human health but can also be considered an integral part of toxicity testing of novel compounds. Current techniques involve exploitation of stem cells, decellularised organs and synthetic scaffolds but, unfortunately, infer issues with regards to ethics, procurement, sustainability and scalability. Wheat protein (i.e. gluten) has been reported to demonstrate good mechanical properties, biocompatibility, and, to an extent, enhance the growth rate of cultured cells [Xia et al., 2016; Reddy et al., 2011; Woerdeman et al., 2004]. As such, the aim of this project was to evaluate the characteristics of pasta (i.e. 100% durum wheat) as a novel candidate material for the development of a 3D cell model- with potential use in pharmaceutical and biological research.

The main objectives focussed on the assessment of the mechanical properties of pasta- its toughness/fragility, breakability, flexibility and ability to withstand pressure using the Stable Micro Systems TA.XT PLUS texture analyser. Biological compatibility was assessed via the culture of human lung cells (i.e. A549) on the pasta substrate and the MTS viability and LDH release assays.

Results generated highlight significant differences between the type of pasta (i.e. normal versus gluten-free), the shape of pasta (i.e. tube versus sheet) and processing treatment (i.e. cooked at 100°C, soaked at 8°C and untreated) in terms of their mechanical properties. Long term structural integrity and sterility of the pasta was maintained for ~7 days. Biocompatibility aspects of the pasta was validated by the positive attachment, spreading and proliferation of A549 cells during this timeframe. Cell death, as quantified by LDH release, was not significantly impacted in comparison to the control TCP. Taken together, these results suggest that pasta, once processed appropriately, could be used a novel cell culture scaffold to facilitate the generation of simple, low cost cell culture models.