282672 Materials for 4D Biology: Spatial and Temporal Control of the Stem Cell Niche
Interactions between mammalian cells and the surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM) are critical in the regulation of stem cell differentiation, cell migration, tissue morphogenesis, and disease progression. Cell decisions are often made by integrating these complex and dynamic interactions in 4D: three-dimensional space and time. Synthetic polymer-based hydrogels have emerged as an effective cell culture platform to investigate the influence of these cell-matrix interactions on cell function in a systematic manner. Hydrogels are attractive mimics of the ECM on account of their high water content, tissue-like elasticity, and facile transport of nutrients, waste, and soluble factors. Furthermore, poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogels can be formed under mild, cytocompatible conditions and are easily modified to present various biochemical and mechanical signals to cells during culture.
While cell-laden PEG hydrogel constructs have been employed for regenerative medicine and fundamental biological applications, there is still a lack of materials that allow the user to recapitulate the spatially heterogeneous and dynamic environment that cells interact with in vivo. My Ph.D. research has focused on the development, characterization, and application of photoresponsive PEG-based hydrogels that afford the user control of the mechanical and biochemical properties of the scaffold in both 3D space and time. This class of materials facilitates experiments that probe the relationship between spatially heterogeneous and dynamic signals from the ECM and cell function in a well-defined environment to study the fundamentals of the cell-material interactions, stem cell differentiation and plasticity, as well as the cellular response to local changes in soluble factor concentration.
Specifically, we have developed photoresponsive materials for the dynamic modulation of the ECM during 2D and 3D culture. These materials have been used to investigate stem cell response to dynamic changes in elasticity and the plasticity of stem cells during microenvironmental mechanotransduction. Further, we have utilized photoresponsive hydrogels to develop photodegradable microspheres for the targeted delivery of soluble factors to study tissue morphogenesis and chemotaxis. Thin films of photodegradable hydrogel have been employed for the selective capture and release of cells for diagnostic application. Click-based, enzymatically and photodegradable hydrogels have been used as advanced 3D culture platforms that promote cell function while permitting the analysis of cell behavior through the recovery of cultured cells.