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Keywords:

  • Biomedical Applications;
  • Hydrogels;
  • Microfluidics

Abstract

Many biological processes are regulated by gradients of bioactive chemicals. Thus, the generation of materials with embedded chemical gradients may be beneficial for understanding biological phenomena and generating tissue-mimetic constructs. Here a simple and versatile method to rapidly generate materials containing centimeter-long gradients of chemical properties in a microfluidic channel is described. The formation of a chemical gradient is initiated by a passive-pump-induced forward flow and further developed during an evaporation-induced backward flow. The gradient is spatially controlled by the backward flow time and the hydrogel material containing the gradient is synthesized via photopolymerization. Gradients of a cell-adhesion ligand, Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser (RGDS), are incorporated in poly(ethylene glycol)-diacrylate (PEG-DA) hydrogels to test the response of endothelial cells. The cells attach and spread along the hydrogel material in a manner consistent with the RGDS-gradient profile. A hydrogel containing a PEG-DA concentration gradient and constant RGDS concentration is also shown. The morphology of cells cultured on such hydrogel changes from round in the lower PEG-DA concentration regions to well-spread in the higher PEG-DA concentration regions. This approach is expected to be a valuable tool to investigate the cell–material interactions in a simple and high-throughput manner and to design graded biomimetic materials for tissue engineering applications.