The ECM of a specific tissue is then obtained after the decellularization process. There are two possibilities for the next step (2): (a) the dECM can be directly used with cells serving as an ideal scaffold that combine both the unique composition and architecture of a native tissue or (b) the dECM can be further processed and digested into a powder form which can be easily stored, transported and therefore commercialized. This last strategy has been more employed as a result of its easier scalability. The dECM powder can then be solubilized to form hydrogels (3) when researchers are ready to prepare their samples. These hydrogels can be used just as a 3D cell culture environment for cells to study different aspects of their behavior (differentiation, proliferation, phenotype) or processed with different techniques to produce more complex 3D shapes. The manufacturing techniques include but are not limited to casting, 3D printing and electrospinning.
When the aim is to produce a lab-grown organ, these hydrogels can be mixed with cells before or after shaped into the desired form (4). The organ-like structure needs to be matured to allow the cells to adhere, proliferate, and reorganize the many proteins present in these hydrogels in a more similar manner than it is naturally. This maturation process basically consists in leaving the samples in a biological incubator with a proper gas exchange and culture medium containing enough nutrients for its development.
For the mentioned reasons, dECM is one promising strategy to develop lab-grown organs. They have the potential to overcome the organ shortage for transplantation that we have always faced. Furthermore, they open many different possibilities for improving or developing novel treatments.