Nature-inspired assemblies are a fascinating class of materials, which is attracting a large number of research groups in the world. The creation of an artificial extracellular matrix (ECM) for stem cell growth and expansion has recently become an intriguing topic. Nevertheless, this has not been accomplished yet due to the lack of dynamics in synthetic systems and the subsequent inhibition of essential cellular processes. The aim of my research is to try to tackle this problem by using supramolecular polymers. In particular, the assembly of benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxamide (BTA) derivatives into micrometer-long fibers has been extensively investigated and proven to be highly dynamic. The fibrous structure and dynamics, combined with the possibility of introducing bioactive moieties, make BTAs extremely promising to mimic the native ECM. My work is focused on the creation of a library of bio-functionalized BTA hydrogels with different dynamics and mechanical properties. In my project, hyaluronic acid (HA) is chosen as the bioactive functionality in the synthetic hydrogels as it is a native ECM polysaccharide with key roles in biological processes, such as cell migration and proliferation. For the hydrogel formation, HA is functionalized with pending asymmetric BTAs as supramolecular crosslinkers. The mechanical properties of this hydrogel are compared to materials where BTA fibers are not covalently attached to HA, as well as to covalently-linked hydrogels with additional free BTA fibers, to provide additional dynamics to the system. This study will shed the light on the importance of dynamics in the development of artificial extracellular matrices for organoid expansion.
Techniques: UV, CD, SLS, NMR