The development of bioartificial-hybrid organ support systems is hampered by the lack of knowledge on the effects of different (in vivo) environments on cells during extracorporeal perfusion. In the present study, a perfusion chamber was designed for continuous monitoring of cultured cells during perfusion with media, as well as during plasma perfusion in an extracorporeal circuit. Chamber characterization showed satisfactory thermal and perfusion profiles and no major pH fluctuations. Further testing was performed with hepatocytes that were cultured in between two collagen layers, a configuration which was previously shown to preserve hepatocyte morphology and function for over six weeks of culture. Perfusion of the hepatocytes with culture media did not adversely affect cell morphology and function, provided the perfusion time was ≤ 48 hours. Perfusion of the cultures during connection of the chamber to an extracorporeal circuit involving normal rats for six hours resulted in reversible cytoplasmic changes, unaltered cell shapes indices, and a 40 percent increase in albumin secretion rate during the first post-perfusion day, followed by a return to stable control levels. We expect that this chamber will be a valuable tool for on-line studies of cells under (extracorporeal) perfusion conditions and could be used for a large variety of studies on regeneration, reperfusion damage, and detoxification.

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