Hydrogels With Tunable Stiffness Improve MSC Differentiation into Bone Cells

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Synthetic three-dimensional substrates, developed to support cell attachment and growth, have one major goal: to provide the cells an environment that not only supports their function, but provides the ability for them to incorporate their native behavior into the constructs. This means response to external stimuli and interaction with surrounding tissues.

Many types of materials have been used as scaffolds: hydrogels, in particular, offer the benefit of being fully tunable and have varied mechanical strength properties that can be applied to different types of constructs.

According to a new report published in Nature Materials, however, traditional hydrogels do not display a sufficiently accurate set of physical properties such as stiffness as well as mechanical stress responses, which are critical in directing stem cell differentiation.

Dr. David Mooney and colleagues at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences reported of a new hydrogel with tunable stress relaxation responses.

The manuscript, titled “Hydrogels with tunable stress relaxation regulate stem cell fate and activity,” the authors described new tunable hydrogels that, when seeded with MSCs, allowed the cells to fully differentiate and developed into fully-fledged bone cells.


The images above, a scanning electron microscope image, shows MSCs cultured on hydrogel scaffolds.

Beyond providing scaffolds with attachment properties alone, this manuscript demonstrates that addressing physicochemical cues that the cells respond to is equally as important.

The manuscript can be accessed here.

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