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Keywords:

  • biohybrid materials;
  • hydrogels;
  • starPEG;
  • heparin;
  • mesenchymal stem cells;
  • human umbilical vein endothelial cells

Abstract

Cell-instructive characteristics of extracellular matrices (ECM) resulting from a subtle balance of biomolecular and biophysical signals must be recapitulated in engineered biomaterials to facilitate regenerative therapies. However, no material explored so far allows the independent tuning of the involved molecular and physical cues due to the inherent correlation between biopolymer concentration and material properties. Addressing the resulting challenge, a rational design strategy for ECM-inspired biohybrid hydrogels based on multi-armed poly(ethylene glycol) and heparin, adapting a mean field approach to identify conditions at which the balance of elastic, electrostatic, and excluded volume forces results in constant heparin concentrations within swollen polymer networks with gradually varied physical properties is introduced. Applying heparin-based biofunctionalization schemes, multiple distinct combinations of matrix parameters could be identified to effectively stimulate the pro-angiogenic state of human endothelial cells and the differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells. The study demonstrates the power of joint theoretical and experimental efforts in creating bioactive materials with specifically and independently controllable characteristics.