Sustained, localized protein delivery can enhance the safety and activity of protein drugs in diverse disease settings. While hydrogel systems are widely studied as vehicles for protein delivery, they often suffer from rapid release of encapsulated cargo, leading to a narrow duration of therapy, and protein cargo can be denatured by incompatibility with the hydrogel crosslinking chemistry. In this work, we describe injectable nanocomposite hydrogels that are capable of sustained, bioactive, release of a variety of encapsulated proteins. Injectable and porous cryogels were formed by bio-orthogonal crosslinking of alginate using tetrazine-norbornene coupling. To provide sustained release from these hydrogels, protein cargo was pre-adsorbed to charged Laponite nanoparticles that were incorporated within the walls of the cryogels. The presence of Laponite particles substantially hindered the release of a number of proteins that otherwise showed burst release from these hydrogels. By modifying the Laponite content within the hydrogels, the kinetics of protein release could be precisely tuned. This versatile strategy to control protein release simplifies the design of hydrogel drug delivery systems.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Here we present an injectable nanocomposite hydrogel for simple and versatile controlled release of therapeutic proteins. Protein release from hydrogels often requires first entrapping the protein in particles and embedding these particles within the hydrogel to allow controlled protein release. This pre-encapsulation process can be cumbersome, can damage the protein's activity, and must be optimized for each protein of interest. The strategy presented in this work simply premixes the protein with charged nanoparticles that bind strongly with the protein. These protein-laden particles are then placed within a hydrogel and slowly release the protein into the surrounding environment. Using this method, tunable release from an injectable hydrogel can be achieved for a variety of proteins. This strategy greatly simplifies the design of hydrogel systems for therapeutic protein release applications.
Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) secrete paracrine factors that play crucial roles during tissue regeneration. Whether this paracrine function is influenced by the properties of biomaterials in general, and those used for cell delivery in particular, largely remains unexplored. Here, we investigated if three-dimensional culture in distinct microenvironments - nanoporous hydrogels (mean pore size ∼5 nm) and macroporous scaffolds (mean pore size ∼120 μm) - affects the secretion pattern of MSCs, and consequently leads to differential paracrine effects on target progenitor cells such as myoblasts. We report that compared to MSCs encapsulated in hydrogels, scaffold seeded MSCs show an enhanced secretion profile and exert beneficial paracrine effects on various myoblast functions including migration and proliferation. Additionally, we show that the heightened paracrine effects of scaffold seeded cells can in part be attributed to N-cadherin mediated cell-cell interactions during culture. In hydrogels, this physical interaction between cells is prevented by the encapsulating matrix. Functionally blocking N-cadherin negatively affected the secretion profile and paracrine effects of MSCs on myoblasts, with stronger effects observed for scaffold seeded compared to hydrogel encapsulated cells. Together, these findings demonstrate that the therapeutic potency of MSCs can be enhanced by biomaterials that promote cell-cell interactions.
Cells alter their mechanical properties in response to their local microenvironment; this plays a role in determining cell function and can even influence stem cell fate. Here, we identify a robust and unified relationship between cell stiffness and cell volume. As a cell spreads on a substrate, its volume decreases, while its stiffness concomitantly increases. We find that both cortical and cytoplasmic cell stiffness scale with volume for numerous perturbations, including varying substrate stiffness, cell spread area, and external osmotic pressure. The reduction of cell volume is a result of water efflux, which leads to a corresponding increase in intracellular molecular crowding. Furthermore, we find that changes in cell volume, and hence stiffness, alter stem-cell differentiation, regardless of the method by which these are induced. These observations reveal a surprising, previously unidentified relationship between cell stiffness and cell volume that strongly influences cell biology.
In-situ tissue regeneration aims to utilize the body's endogenous healing capacity through the recruitment of host stem or progenitor cells to an injury site. Stromal cell-derived factor-1α (SDF-1α) is widely discussed as a potent chemoattractant. Here we use a cell-free biomaterial-based approach to (i) deliver SDF-1α for the recruitment of endogenous bone marrow-derived stromal cells (BMSC) into a critical-sized segmental femoral defect in rats and to (ii) induce hydrogel stiffness-mediated osteogenic differentiation in-vivo. Ionically crosslinked alginate hydrogels with a stiffness optimized for osteogenic differentiation were used. Fast-degrading porogens were incorporated to impart a macroporous architecture that facilitates host cell invasion. Endogenous cell recruitment to the defect site was successfully triggered through the controlled release of SDF-1α. A trend for increased bone volume fraction (BV/TV) and a significantly higher bone mineral density (BMD) were observed for gels loaded with SDF-1α, compared to empty gels at two weeks. A trend was also observed, albeit not statistically significant, towards matrix stiffness influencing BV/TV and BMD at two weeks. However, over a six week time-frame, these effects were insufficient for bone bridging of a segmental femoral defect. While mechanical cues combined with ex-vivo cell encapsulation have been shown to have an effect in the regeneration of less demanding in-vivo models, such as cranial defects of nude rats, they are not sufficient for a SDF-1α mediated in-situ regeneration approach in segmental femoral defects of immunocompetent rats, suggesting that additional osteogenic cues may also be required.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Stromal cell-derived factor-1α (SDF-1α) is a chemoattractant used to recruit host cells for tissue regeneration. The concept that matrix stiffness can direct mesenchymal stromal cell (MSC) differentiation into various lineages was described a decade ago using in-vitro experiments. Recently, alginate hydrogels with an optimized stiffness and ex-vivo encapsulated MSCs were shown to have an effect in the regeneration of skull defects of nude rats. Here, we apply this material system, loaded with SDF-1α and without encapsulated MSCs, to (i) recruit endogenous cells and (ii) induce stiffness-mediated osteogenic differentiation in-vivo, using as model system a load-bearing femoral defect in immunocompetent rats. While a cell-free approach is of great interest from a translational perspective, the current limitations are described.
Biomaterials have dramatically increased in functionality and complexity, allowing unprecedented control over the cells that interact with them. From these engineering advances arises the prospect of improved biomaterial-based therapies, yet practical constraints favour simplicity. Tools from the biology community are enabling high-resolution and high-throughput bioassays that, if incorporated into a biomaterial design framework, could help achieve unprecedented functionality while minimizing the complexity of designs by identifying the most important material parameters and biological outputs. However, to avoid data explosions and to effectively match the information content of an assay with the goal of the experiment, material screens and bioassays must be arranged in specific ways. By borrowing methods to design experiments and workflows from the bioprocess engineering community, we outline a framework for the incorporation of next-generation bioassays into biomaterials design to effectively optimize function while minimizing complexity. This framework can inspire biomaterials designs that maximize functionality and translatability.
Cartilage tissue equivalents formed from hydrogels containing chondrocytes could provide a solution for replacing damaged cartilage. Previous approaches have often utilized elastic hydrogels. However, elastic stresses may restrict cartilage matrix formation and alter the chondrocyte phenotype. Here we investigated the use of viscoelastic hydrogels, in which stresses are relaxed over time and which exhibit creep, for three-dimensional (3D) culture of chondrocytes. We found that faster relaxation promoted a striking increase in the volume of interconnected cartilage matrix formed by chondrocytes. In slower relaxing gels, restriction of cell volume expansion by elastic stresses led to increased secretion of IL-1β, which in turn drove strong up-regulation of genes associated with cartilage degradation and cell death. As no cell-adhesion ligands are presented by the hydrogels, these results reveal cell sensing of cell volume confinement as an adhesion-independent mechanism of mechanotransduction in 3D culture, and highlight stress relaxation as a key design parameter for cartilage tissue engineering.
DNA nanostructures have evoked great interest as potential therapeutics and diagnostics due to ease and robustness of programming their shapes, site-specific functionalizations and responsive behaviours. However, their utility in biological fluids can be compromised through denaturation induced by physiological salt concentrations and degradation mediated by nucleases. Here we demonstrate that DNA nanostructures coated by oligolysines to 0.5:1 N:P (ratio of nitrogen in lysine to phosphorus in DNA), are stable in low salt and up to tenfold more resistant to DNase I digestion than when uncoated. Higher N:P ratios can lead to aggregation, but this can be circumvented by coating instead with an oligolysine-PEG copolymer, enabling up to a 1,000-fold protection against digestion by serum nucleases. Oligolysine-PEG-stabilized DNA nanostructures survive uptake into endosomal compartments and, in a mouse model, exhibit a modest increase in pharmacokinetic bioavailability. Thus, oligolysine-PEG is a one-step, structure-independent approach that provides low-cost and effective protection of DNA nanostructures for in vivo applications.
Dental disease annually affects billions of patients, and while regenerative dentistry aims to heal dental tissue after injury, existing polymeric restorative materials, or fillings, do not directly participate in the healing process in a bioinstructive manner. There is a need for restorative materials that can support native functions of dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs), which are capable of regenerating dentin. A polymer microarray formed from commercially available monomers to rapidly identify materials that support DPSC adhesion is used. Based on these findings, thiol-ene chemistry is employed to achieve rapid light-curing and minimize residual monomer of the lead materials. Several triacrylate bulk polymers support DPSC adhesion, proliferation, and differentiation in vitro, and exhibit stiffness and tensile strength similar to existing dental materials. Conversely, materials composed of a trimethacrylate monomer or bisphenol A glycidyl methacrylate, which is a monomer standard in dental materials, do not support stem cell adhesion and negatively impact matrix and signaling pathways. Furthermore, thiol-ene polymerized triacrylates are used as permanent filling materials at the dentin-pulp interface in direct contact with irreversibly injured pulp tissue. These novel triacrylate-based biomaterials have potential to enable novel regenerative dental therapies in the clinic by both restoring teeth and providing a supportive niche for DPSCs.
Stem cells and their local microenvironment, or niche, communicate through mechanical cues to regulate cell fate and cell behaviour and to guide developmental processes. During embryonic development, mechanical forces are involved in patterning and organogenesis. The physical environment of pluripotent stem cells regulates their self-renewal and differentiation. Mechanical and physical cues are also important in adult tissues, where adult stem cells require physical interactions with the extracellular matrix to maintain their potency. In vitro, synthetic models of the stem cell niche can be used to precisely control and manipulate the biophysical and biochemical properties of the stem cell microenvironment and to examine how the mode and magnitude of mechanical cues, such as matrix stiffness or applied forces, direct stem cell differentiation and function. Fundamental insights into the mechanobiology of stem cells also inform the design of artificial niches to support stem cells for regenerative therapies.
Mechanical properties of the extracellular microenvironment are known to alter cellular behavior, such as spreading, proliferation or differentiation. Previous studies have primarily focused on studying the effect of matrix stiffness on cells using hydrogel substrates that exhibit purely elastic behavior. However, these studies have neglected a key property exhibited by the extracellular matrix (ECM) and various tissues; viscoelasticity and subsequent stress-relaxation. As muscle exhibits viscoelasticity, stress-relaxation could regulate myoblast behavior such as spreading and proliferation, but this has not been previously studied. In order to test the impact of stress relaxation on myoblasts, we created a set of two-dimensional RGD-modified alginate hydrogel substrates with varying initial elastic moduli and rates of relaxation. The spreading of myoblasts cultured on soft stress-relaxing substrates was found to be greater than cells on purely elastic substrates of the same initial elastic modulus. Additionally, the proliferation of myoblasts was greater on hydrogels that exhibited stress-relaxation, as compared to cells on elastic hydrogels of the same modulus. These findings highlight stress-relaxation as an important mechanical property in the design of a biomaterial system for the culture of myoblasts.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: This article investigates the effect of matrix stress-relaxation on spreading and proliferation of myoblasts by using tunable elastic and stress-relaxing alginate hydrogels substrates with different initial elastic moduli. Many past studies investigating the effect of mechanical properties on cell fate have neglected the viscoelastic behavior of extracellular matrices and various tissues and used hydrogels exhibiting purely elastic behavior. Muscle tissue is viscoelastic and exhibits stress-relaxation. Therefore, stress-relaxation could regulate myoblast behavior if it were to be incorporated into the design of hydrogel substrates. Altogether, we showed that stress-relaxation impacts myoblasts spreading and proliferation. These findings enable a better understanding of myoblast behavior on viscoelastic substrates and could lead to the design of more suitable substrates for myoblast expansion in vitro.
Biomaterial-based delivery of angiogenic growth factors restores perfusion more effectively than bolus delivery methods in rodent models of peripheral vascular disease, but the same success has not yet been demonstrated in clinically relevant studies of aged or large animals. These studies explore, in clinically relevant models, a therapeutic angiogenesis strategy for the treatment of peripheral vascular disease that overcomes the challenges encountered in previous clinical trials. Alginate hydrogels providing sustained release of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF) were injected into ischemic hind limbs in middle-aged and old mice, and also in young rabbits, as a test of the scalability of this local growth factor treatment. Spontaneous perfusion recovery diminished with increasing age, and only the combination of VEGF and IGF delivery from gels significantly rescued perfusion in middle-aged (13 months) and old (20 months) mice. In rabbits, the delivery of VEGF alone or in combination with IGF from alginate hydrogels, at a dose 2 orders of magnitude lower than the typical doses used in past rabbit studies, enhanced perfusion recovery when given immediately after surgery, or as a treatment for chronic ischemia. Capillary density measurements and angiographic analysis demonstrated the benefit of gel delivery. These data together suggest that alginate hydrogels providing local delivery of low doses of VEGF and IGF constitute a safe and effective treatment for hind-limb ischemia in clinically relevant animal models, thereby supporting the potential clinical translation of this concept.
The use of autologous cells harvested and subsequently transplanted in an intraoperative environment constitutes a new approach to promote regeneration. Usually cells are isolated by selection methods such as fluorescence- or magnetic- activated cell sorting with residual binding of the antibodies or beads. Thus, cell-based therapies would benefit from the development of new devices for cell isolation that minimally manipulate the target cell population. In the clinic, 5 to 10 percent of fractures do not heal properly and CD31+ cells have been identified as promising candidates to support bone regeneration. The aim of this project was to develop and prototype a simple system to facilitate the enrichment of CD31+ cells from whole blood. After validating the specificity of a commercially available aptamer for CD31, we combined this aptamer with traditional magnetic bead strategies, which led to enrichment of CD31+ cells with a purity of 91±10%. Subsequently, the aptamer was attached to agarose beads (Ø = 100-165 um) that were incorporated into a column-based system to enable capture and subsequent release of the CD31+ enriched cells. Different parameters were investigated to allow a biophysical-based cell release from beads, and a simple mixing was found sufficient to release initially bound cells from the optimized column without the need for any chemicals that promote disassociation. The system led to a significant enrichment of CD31+ cells (initial population: 63±9%, released: 87±3%) with excellent cell viability (released: 97±1%). The composition of the released CD31+ fraction indicated an enrichment of the monocyte population. The angiogenic and osteogenic potential of the released cell population were confirmed in vitro. These results and the simplicity of this system highlight the potential of such approach to enable cell enrichment strategies in intraoperative settings.
Controlled self-assembly of cell-encapsulating microscale polymeric hydrogels (microgels) could be advantageous in a variety of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications. Here, a method of assembly by chemical modification of alginate polymer with binding pair molecules (BPM) was explored. Alginate was modified with several types of BPM, specifically biotin and streptavidin and click chemistry compounds, and fabricated into 25-30 μm microgels using a microfluidic platform. These microgels were demonstrated to self-assemble under physiological conditions. By combining complementary microgels at a high ratio, size-defined assemblages were created, and the effects of BPM type and assembly method on the number of microgels per assemblage and packing density were determined. Furthermore, a magnetic process was developed to separate assemblages from single microgels, and allow formation of multilayer spheroids. Finally, cells were singly encapsulated into alginate microgels and assembled using BPM-modified alginate, suggesting potential applications in regenerative medicine.
Cell transplantation is a promising therapeutic strategy for the treatment of traumatic muscle injury in humans. Previous investigations have typically focused on the identification of potent cell and growth factor treatments and optimization of spatial control over delivery. However, the optimal time point for cell transplantation remains unclear. Here, this study reports how myoblast and morphogen delivery timed to coincide with specific phases of the inflammatory response affects donor cell engraftment and the functional repair of severely injured muscle. Delivery of a biomaterial-based therapy timed with the peak of injury-induced inflammation leads to potent early and long-term regenerative benefits. Diminished inflammation and fibrosis, enhanced angiogenesis, and increased cell engraftment are seen during the acute stage following optimally timed treatment. Over the long term, treatment during peak inflammation leads to enhanced functional regeneration, as indicated by reduced chronic inflammation and fibrosis along with increased tissue perfusion and muscle contractile force. Treatments initiated immediately after injury or after inflammation had largely resolved provided more limited benefits. These results demonstrate the importance of appropriately timing the delivery of biologic therapy in the context of muscle regeneration. Biomaterial-based timed delivery can likely be applied to other tissues and is of potential wide utility in regenerative medicine.
Adhesion to wet and dynamic surfaces, including biological tissues, is important in many fields but has proven to be extremely challenging. Existing adhesives are cytotoxic, adhere weakly to tissues, or cannot be used in wet environments. We report a bioinspired design for adhesives consisting of two layers: an adhesive surface and a dissipative matrix. The former adheres to the substrate by electrostatic interactions, covalent bonds, and physical interpenetration. The latter amplifies energy dissipation through hysteresis. The two layers synergistically lead to higher adhesion energies on wet surfaces as compared with those of existing adhesives. Adhesion occurs within minutes, independent of blood exposure and compatible with in vivo dynamic movements. This family of adhesives may be useful in many areas of application, including tissue adhesives, wound dressings, and tissue repair.
Although skeletal muscle can naturally regenerate in response to minor injuries, more severe damage and myopathies can cause irreversible loss of muscle mass and function. Cell therapies, while promising, have not yet demonstrated consistent benefit, likely due to poor survival of delivered cells. Biomaterials can improve muscle regeneration by presenting chemical and physical cues to muscle cells that mimic the natural cascade of regeneration. This brief review describes strategies for muscle repair utilizing biomaterials that can provide signals to either transplanted or host muscle cells. These strategies range from approaches that utilize biomaterials alone to those that combine biomaterials with exogenous growth factors, ex vivo cultured cells, and extensive culture time.
We discuss the state of the art and innovative micro- and nanoscale technologies that are finding niches and opening up new opportunities in medicine, particularly in diagnostic and therapeutic applications. We take the design of point-of-care applications and the capture of circulating tumor cells as illustrative examples of the integration of micro- and nanotechnologies into solutions of diagnostic challenges. We describe several novel nanotechnologies that enable imaging cellular structures and molecular events. In therapeutics, we describe the utilization of micro- and nanotechnologies in applications including drug delivery, tissue engineering, and pharmaceutical development/testing. In addition, we discuss relevant challenges that micro- and nanotechnologies face in achieving cost-effective and widespread clinical implementation as well as forecasted applications of micro- and nanotechnologies in medicine.
Dysfunctional T cells can mediate autoimmunity, but the inaccessibility of autoimmune tissues and the rarity of autoimmune T cells in the blood hinder their study. We describe a method to enrich and harvest autoimmune T cells in vivo by using a biomaterial scaffold loaded with protein antigens. In model antigen systems, we found that antigen-specific T cells become enriched within scaffolds containing their cognate antigens. When scaffolds containing lysates from an insulin-producing β-cell line were implanted subcutaneously in autoimmune diabetes-prone NOD mice, β-cell-reactive T cells homed to these scaffolds and became enriched. These T cells induced diabetes after adoptive transfer, indicating their pathogenicity. Furthermore, T-cell receptor (TCR) sequencing identified many expanded TCRs within the β-cell scaffolds that were also expanded within the pancreata of NOD mice. These data demonstrate the utility of biomaterial scaffolds loaded with disease-specific antigens to identify and study rare, therapeutically important T cells.
Single cell-laden three-dimensional (3D) microgels that can serve to mimic stem cell niches in vitro, and are therefore termed microniches, can be efficiently fabricated by droplet-based microfluidics. In this technique an aqueous polymer solution along with a highly diluted cell solution is injected into a microfluidic device to create monodisperse pre-microgel droplets that are then solidified by a polymer crosslinking reaction to obtain monodisperse single cell-laden microniches. However, problems limiting this approach studying the fate of single cells include Poisson encapsulation statistics that result in mostly empty microniches, and cells egressing from the microniches during subsequent cell culture. Here, we present a strategy to bypass Poisson encapsulation statistics in synthetic microniches by selective crosslinking of only cell-laden pre-microgel droplets. Furthermore, we show that we can position cells in the center of the microniches, and that even in protease-sensitive microniches this greatly reduces cell egress. Collectively, we present the development of a versatile protocol that allows for unprecedented efficiency in creation of synthetic protease-sensitive microniches for probing single stem cell fate in 3D.