Microvascular bioengineering: a focus on pericytes
Capillaries within the microcirculation are essential for oxygen delivery and nutrient/waste exchange, among other critical functions. Microvascular bioengineering approaches have sought to recapitulate many key features of these capillary networks, with an increasing appreciation for the necessity of incorporating vascular pericytes. Here, we briefly review established and more recent insights into important aspects of pericyte identification and function within the microvasculature. We then consider the importance of including vascular pericytes in various bioengineered microvessel platforms including 3D culturing and microfluidic systems. We also discuss how vascular pericytes are a vital component in the construction of computational models that simulate microcirculation phenomena including angiogenesis, microvascular biomechanics, and kinetics of exchange across the vessel wall. In reviewing these topics, we highlight the notion that incorporating pericytes into microvascular bioengineering applications will increase their utility and accelerate the translation of basic discoveries to clinical solutions for vascular-related pathologies.