Hydrogel-based tissue engineering scaffolds are widely used for culturing cells in three dimensions (3D) due to their tissue-like water content, tunable biochemical and physical properties, and ease of cell encapsulation and distribution in 3D. However, most conventional hydrogels lack the macroporosity desirable for efficient cell proliferation and migration, and have limited flexibility when subject to mechanical load. Microfiber-based scaffolds, on the other hand, are inherently macroporous and flexible, but are often associated with cell-unfriendly fabrication procedures which make microfibers unsuitable for direct cell-encapsulation.
To overcome these limitations, Stanford University Researchers have created a novel scaffold material consisting of crosslinkable, microribbon-like elastomers, which can assemble into highly macroporous scaffolds that facilitate cell encapsulation and support cell proliferation in 3D.
The biochemical composition, macroporosity level, and mechanical properties of the microribbon-based scaffolds can be independently adjusted to influence cell behaviors associated with biochemical, topographical and mechanical cues. Furthermore, the geometry of microribbons enables the microribbon-based scaffolds to sustain large deformation and mechanical stress.
In published results, the researchers showed that, when encapsulated in the microribbon-based scaffold, human adipose derived stromal cells proliferated up to 30-fold within 3 weeks. Furthermore, microribbon-based scaffolds demonstrate great flexibility and can sustain up to 90% strain and 3 MPa stress without failing. Such unique macroporosity and flexibility of the microribbon-based scaffolds make them promising for engineering shock-absorbing tissues such as cartilage and intervertebral discs.