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Scaffold gradients: Finding the right environment for developing cells
Date:5/27/2010

People often have strong opinions on the "right" firmness of mattresses for themselves, and, as it turns out, some cell types have similar preferences for their support structures. Now a research team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has developed a way to offer cells a three-dimensional scaffold that varies over a broad range of degrees of stiffness to determine where they develop best. Their recently published technique* is a way to rapidly optimize 3D cell growth media to meet the developmental needs of specific cell types for a wide variety of potential tissue-replacement therapies.

Tissue engineering is a relatively new field that is developing methods to grow or regenerate bodily tissuesskin, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, perhaps one day even whole organsto replace those damaged by injury or disease. One of the key challenges in the field is developing appropriate three-dimensional "scaffolds," artificial materials that can hold tissue progenitor cells and allow them to be nurtured and supported while they multiply and develop into desired tissues. Research has shown that cells often need to develop in a 3D environment if they are to mature and differentiate properly.

Hydrogelsmost familiar for their use in soft contact lensesare a promising material for tissue scaffolds. They consist of a loose network of polymer chains that is swollen with water; in fact, like the majority of the body's tissues, they are mostly water.

But, says NIST materials scientist Kaushik Chatterjee, deciding on a hydrogel is just the beginning. "Now you've got these gels, what sort of properties do you want? What gets you the best kind of whatever tissue you're afterin our case, bone? We focused on stiffness because cells are known to sense and respond to changes in the stiffness of their environment."

To test this, the research team developed a method to create sam
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Contact: Michael Baum
michael.baum@nist.gov
301-975-2763
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Source:Eurekalert  

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