Hydrogels represent a class of materials suitable for numerous biomedical applications such as tissue engineering and drug delivery. Hydrogels are by definition capable of absorbing large amount of fluid, making them adequate for cell seeding and encapsulation as well as for implantation because of their biocompatibility and excellent diffusion properties. They also possess other desirable properties for fundamental research as they have the ability to mimic the basic three-dimensional (3D) biological, chemical, and mechanical properties of native tissues. Furthermore, their biological interactions with cells can be modified through the numerous side groups of the polymeric chains. Thus, the biological, chemical, and mechanical properties, as well as the degradation kinetics of hydrogels can be tailored depending on the application. In addition, their fabrication process can be combined with microtechnologies to enable precise control of cell-scale features such as surface topography and the presence of adhesion motifs on the hydrogel material. This ability to control the microscale structure of hydrogels has been used to engineer tissue models and to study cell behavior mechanisms in vitro. New approaches such as bottom-up and directed assembly of microscale hydrogels (microgels) are currently emerging as powerful methods to enable the fabrication of 3D constructs replicating the microenvironment found in vivo. WIREs Nanomed Nanobiotechnol 2012, 4:235–246. doi: 10.1002/wnan.171
For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.