Mechanics and transport characterization of bioengineered tissue microenvironment platforms

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Virginia Tech

The tissue microenvironment is a complex living system containing heterogeneous mechanical and biophysical cues. Cellular components are surrounded by extracellular matrix and interstitial fluid, while transport of nutrients and biochemical factors is achieved via the vasculature. Each constituent of the tissue microenvironment can play a significant role in its ability to function normally. Many diseases including cancer have been linked with dysfunction in the tissue microenvironment; therefore an improved understanding of interaction between components of this complex system is needed.

In vitro platforms mimicking the tissue microenvironment appear to provide the most promising avenue for studies of cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions as well as elucidation of the mechanisms leading to disease phenomena such as tumor metastasis. However, successful recapitulation of all three primary components of the tissue microenvironment in three dimensions has remained challenging. In particular, matching mechanical cues and biochemical transport to in vivo conditions is difficult because of lack of quantitative characterization of the physical properties and parameters of such platforms.

In this work, extensive characterization of collagen I hydrogels, popular for use as extracellular matrix mimics, was performed in order to enable tuning to specific in vivo conditions. Additionally, perfusion of blood in a 3D tissue microenvironment platform fabricated using collagen hydrogels was characterized to enable future advances in in vitro modeling of the in vivo microenvironment. Finally, the tissue microenvironment platform is modified to enable biochemical gradients within the hydrogel and used to examine directed migration (chemotaxis) of human breast cancer cells in response to gradients in growth factor combined with varied stiffness and pore diameter of the extracellular matrix.

collagen hydrogels, mechanical properties, extracellular matrix (ECM), particle image velocimetry (PIV), microstructure, microenvironment