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.
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