Cell-Activated Soft Materials

Two-dimensional cell culture — for example, the growth of adherent cells on a glass coverslip — is an indispensible technique in molecular and cell biology. However, the conditions in which these cells are grown (e.g., in aqueous culture media) differ drastically from the cytoarchitecture cells experience in native tissue. The differences in the chemical, physical, and mechanical characteristics of these environments can make it difficult to translate results from cell culture to in vivo systems.

To clear the path from experimental results to practical applications, we are working toward dynamic hydrogels that can serve as three-dimensional cell culture matrices and soft materials that can act as cell-activated wound-healing materials. To this end, we are developing dynamic covalent soft materials that alter their mechanical properties in the presence of cellular events, such as ion efflux and oxidative stress. Using principles from synthetic organic/inorganic and physical organic chemistry, we are rationally designing chemistry that undergoes chemoselective transformations to alter the dynamics of the crosslinking components, and by extension, the bulk properties of the material.

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