Engineered hydrogels for mechanobiology

Ulrich Blache, Eden M. Ford, Byunghang Ha, Laura Rijns, Ovijit Chaudhuri, Patricia Y. W. Dankers, April M. Kloxin, Jess G. Snedeker & Eileen Gentleman

Published: December 2022


Cells’ local mechanical environment can be as important in guiding cellular responses as many well-characterized biochemical cues. Hydrogels that mimic the native extracellular matrix can provide these mechanical cues to encapsulated cells, allowing for the study of their impact on cellular behaviours. Moreover, by harnessing cellular responses to mechanical cues, hydrogels can be used to create tissues in vitro for regenerative medicine applications and for disease modelling. This Primer outlines the importance and challenges of creating hydrogels that mimic the mechanical and biological properties of the native extracellular matrix. The design of hydrogels for mechanobiology studies is discussed, including the appropriate choice of cross-linking chemistry and strategies to tailor hydrogel mechanical cues. Techniques for characterizing hydrogels are explained, highlighting methods used to analyse cell behaviour. Example applications in regenerative medicine and for studying fundamental mechanobiological processes are provided, along with a discussion of the limitations of hydrogels as mimetics of the native extracellular matrix. The Primer ends with an outlook for the field, focusing on emerging technologies that will enable new insights into mechanobiology and its role in tissue homeostasis and disease.

Full Access Link: Nature Reviews Methods Primers