2021 journal article
Characterizing the Effects of Synergistic Thermal and Photo-Cross-Linking during Biofabrication on the Structural and Functional Properties of Gelatin Methacryloyl (GeIMA) Hydrogels
ACS BIOMATERIALS SCIENCE & ENGINEERING, 7(11), 5175–5188.
Gelatin methacryloyl (GelMA) hydrogels have emerged as promising and versatile biomaterial matrices with applications spanning drug delivery, disease modeling, and tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. GelMA exhibits reversible thermal cross-linking at temperatures below 37 °C due to the entanglement of constitutive polymeric chains, and subsequent ultraviolet (UV) photo-cross-linking can covalently bind neighboring chains to create irreversibly cross-linked hydrogels. However, how these cross-linking modalities interact and can be modulated during biofabrication to control the structural and functional characteristics of this versatile biomaterial is not well explored yet. Accordingly, this work characterizes the effects of synergistic thermal and photo-cross-linking as a function of GelMA solution temperature and UV photo-cross-linking duration during biofabrication on the hydrogels' stiffness, microstructure, proteolytic degradation, and responses of NIH 3T3 and human adipose-derived stem cells (hASC). Smaller pore size, lower degradation rate, and increased stiffness are reported in hydrogels processed at lower temperature or prolonged UV exposure. In hydrogels with low stiffness, the cells were found to shear the matrix and cluster into microspheroids, while poor cell attachment was noted in high stiffness hydrogels. In hydrogels with moderate stiffness, ones processed at lower temperature demonstrated better shape fidelity and cell proliferation over time. Analysis of gene expression of hASC encapsulated within the hydrogels showed that, while the GelMA matrix assisted in maintenance of stem cell phenotype (CD44), a higher matrix stiffness resulted in higher pro-inflammatory marker (ICAM1) and markers for cell-matrix interaction (ITGA1 and ITGA10). Analysis of constructs with ultrasonically patterned hASC showed that hydrogels processed at higher temperature possessed lower structural fidelity but resulted in more cell elongation and greater anisotropy over time. These findings demonstrate the significant impact of GelMA material formulation and processing conditions on the structural and functional properties of the hydrogels. The understanding of these material-process-structure-function interactions is critical toward optimizing the functional properties of GelMA hydrogels for different targeted applications.