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Keywords:

  • dielectrophoresis;
  • hydrogels;
  • patterning;
  • stem cells;
  • stereolithography apparatus

Abstract

Controlling the assembly of cells in three dimensions is very important for engineering functional tissues, drug screening, probing cell-cell/cell-matrix interactions, and studying the emergent behavior of cellular systems. Although the current methods of cell encapsulation in hydrogels can distribute them in three dimensions, these methods typically lack spatial control of multi-cellular organization and do not allow for the possibility of cell-cell contacts as seen for the native tissue. Here, we report the integration of dielectrophoresis (DEP) with stereolithography (SL) apparatus for the spatial patterning of cells on custom made gold micro-electrodes. Afterwards, they are encapsulated in poly (ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) hydrogels of different stiffnesses. This technique can mimic the in vivo microscale tissue architecture, where the cells have a high degree of three dimensional (3D) spatial control. As a proof of concept, we show the patterning and encapsulation of mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) and C2C12 skeletal muscle myoblasts. mESCs show high viability in both the DEP (91.79% ± 1.4%) and the no DEP (94.27% ± 0.5%) hydrogel samples. Furthermore, we also show the patterning of mouse embryoid bodies (mEBs) and C2C12 spheroids in the hydrogels, and verify their viability. This robust and flexible in vitro platform can enable various applications in stem cell differentiation and tissue engineering by mimicking elements of the native 3D in vivo cellular micro-environment.