The researchers found that the presence of the biomaterials alone modulated embryoid body differentiation, but did not adversely affect cell viability. Compared to typical delivery methods, providing differentiation factors -- retinoic acid, bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP4) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) -- via microparticles induced changes in the gene and protein expression patterns of the aggregates.
By including tiny magnetic particles into the embryoid bodies during formation, the researchers also found they could use a magnet to spatially control the location of an aggregate and its assembly with other aggregates. The magnetic particles remained entrapped within the aggregates for the duration of the experiments but did not adversely affect cell viability or differentiation.
"With biomaterial and magnetic microparticles, we are beginning to be able to recreate the types of complex geometric patterns seen during early development, which require multiple cues at the same time and the ability to spatially and temporally control their local presentation," noted McDevitt.
While microparticles can be used to control differentiation by regulating the local environment, other methods exist to control differentiation through the global environment. Experiments by McDevitt and biomedical engineering graduate student Melissa Kinney have
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Georgia Institute of Technology Research News