Scientists say 3D-printed artificial skin could allow researchers to investigate the transmission of deadly mosquito-borne diseases without human or animal testing.
Insects are captured with a vacuum cleaner and placed in a transparent plastic container. After some time, mosquitoes adapt to the new environment and begin to flock to the source of blood. They discover a square of transparent synthetic skin, under which is a vessel of blood. Mosquitoes are able to feed through a piece of skin.
This experiment was conducted by researchers at Tulane University and Rice University. During the experiment, the scientists wanted to find out whether gelatin-like artificial skin patches (hydrogels) are suitable for studying the mechanisms of transmission of deadly diseases by mosquitoes and which repellents are most effective. The widespread use of artificial skin will eliminate the need for experiments on humans.
Hydrogels are already being used at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, where an insectarium produces more than 1,000 mosquitoes a week and a 3D printer prints artificial skin. Rice University bioengineers have developed a hydrogel material and machine learning software that analyzes mosquito feeding videos to identify patterns.
The scientific team found that hydrogels create a more stable environment for mosquito testing, regardless of species. Tests have shown that diethyltoluamide and a plant-based repellent made from lemon and eucalyptus are effective at repelling mosquitoes. Without the repellant, the insects tried to find food inside the hydrogel.
This is a game-changer, said Dawn Wesson, assistant professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. She added that scientists will be able to study the feeding process of mosquitoes in order to better understand the ability of insects to transmit diseases and possibly prevent them.
Mosquitoes are one of the most dangerous insects in the world. They carry deadly diseases including malaria, dengue fever, West Nile fever, Zika virus and yellow fever. About 725,000 people die from mosquito-borne diseases every year, according to WHO data.
Studying the feeding mechanisms of mosquitoes involving humans and mice is costly and inconsistent. The use of hydrogels with different blood vessel structures increases the possibilities for research into feeding processes in mosquitoes exponentially, Wesson noted.
During the experiment, the camera captures the nature of the feeding of mosquitoes. Artificial intelligence is being used to track and sort common bite sites and how long it takes to feed.
The hydrogel system could also be used to test and discover new repellents, as well as study mosquito behavior more broadly, said study author and assistant professor of bioengineering at the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University, Omid Weise.
Scientific work "Development of an automated biomaterial platform to study mosquito feeding behavior" was published on February 09, 2022 in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology (DOI: 10.3389/fbioe.2023.1103748/full).