Baby diapers, contact lenses and gelatin dessert. While seemingly unrelated, these items have one thing in common -- they're made of highly absorbent substances called hydrogels that have versatile applications. Recently, a type of biodegradable hydrogel, dubbed microporous annealed particle (MAP) hydrogel, has gained much attention for its potential to deliver stem cells for body tissue repair. But it is currently unclear how these jelly-like materials affect the growth of their precious cellular cargo, thereby limiting its use in regenerative medicine.
In a new study published in the November issue of Acta Biomaterialia , researchers at Texas A&M University have shown that MAP hydrogels, programmed to biodegrade at an optimum pace, create a fertile environment for bone stem cells to thrive and proliferate vigorously. They found the space created by the withering of MAP hydrogels creates room for the stem cells to grow, spread and form intricate cellular networks.
Our research now shows that stem cells flourish on degrading MAP hydrogels; they also remodel their local environment to better suit their needs. These results have important implications for developing MAP hydrogel-based delivery systems, particularly for regenerative medicine where we want to deliver cells that will replace damaged tissues with new and healthy ones." Dr. Daniel Alge, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering
MAP hydrogels are a newer breed of injectable hydrogels. These soft materials are interconnected chains of extremely small beads made of polyethylene glycol, a synthetic polymer. Although the microbeads cannot themselves cling to cells, they can be engineered to present cell-binding proteins that can then attach to receptor molecules on the stem cells' surface.
Once fastened onto the microbeads, the stem cells use the space between the spheres to grow and transform into specialized cells, like bone or skin cells. And so, when there is an injury, MAP hydrogels can be used to deliver these new cells to help tissues regenerate.
However, the health and behavior of stem cells within the MAP hydrogel environment has never been fully studied.
"MAP hydrogels have superior mechanical and biocompatible properties, so in principle, they are a great platform to grow and maintain stem cells," said Alge. "But people in the field really don't have a good understanding of how stem cells behave in these materials." Related Stories
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