Wound dressing biomaterials are increasingly being designed to incorporate bioactive molecules to promote healing, but the impact of matrix mechanical properties on the biology of resident cells orchestrating skin repair and regeneration remains to be fully understood. This study investigated whether tuning the stiffness of a model wound dressing biomaterial could control the behavior of dermal fibroblasts. Fully interpenetrating networks (IPNs) of collagen-I and alginate were fabricated to enable gel stiffness to be tuned independently of gel architecture, polymer concentration or adhesion ligand density. Three-dimensional cultures of dermal fibroblasts encapsulated within matrices of different stiffness were shown to promote dramatically different cell morphologies, and enhanced stiffness resulted in upregulation of key-mediators of inflammation such as IL-10 and COX-2. These findings suggest that simply modulating the matrix mechanical properties of a given wound dressing biomaterial deposited at the wound site could regulate the progression of wound healing.
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