Stem cells can be coaxed to grow into new bone or new cartilage better and faster when given the right molecular cues and room inside a water-loving gel, researchers at Case Western Reserve University show.
By creating a three-dimensional checkerboardone with alternating highly connected and less connected spaces within the hydrogelthe team found adjusting the size of the micropattern could affect stem cell behaviors, such as proliferation and differentiation.
Inducing how and where stem cells growand into the right kind of cell in three dimensionshas proven a challenge to creating useful stem cell therapies. This technique holds promise for studying how physical, chemical and other influences affect cell behavior in three-dimensions, and, ultimately, as a method to grow tissues for regenerative medicine applications.
"We think that control over local biomaterial properties may allow us to guide the formation of complex tissues," said Eben Alsberg, an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve. "With this system, we can regulate cell proliferation and cell-specific differentiation into, for example, bone-like or cartilage-like cells."
Oju Jeon, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in Biomedical Engineering, pursued this work with Alsberg. Their work is described April 11, 2013 in the online edition of Advanced Functional Materials.
Hydrogels are hydrophilic three-dimensional networks of water-soluble polymers bonded, or crosslinked, to one another. Crosslinks increase rigidity and alter the porous structure inside the gel.
Alsberg and Jeon used a hydrogel of oxidized methacrylated alginate and an 8-arm poly(ethylene glycol) amine. A chemical reaction between the alginate and the poly(ethylene glycol) creates crosslinks that provide structure within the gel.
They tweaked the mix so that a second set of crosslinks forms when exposed to light. They used checkerboard masks
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Case Western Reserve University