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Engineering a clinically-useful matrix for cell therapy

Glenn D. Prestwich

The design criteria for matrices for encapsulation of cells for cell therapy include chemical, biological, engineering, marketing, regulatory, and financial constraints. What is required is a biocompatible material for culture of cells in three-dimensions (3-D) that offers ease of use, experimental flexibility to alter composition and compliance, and a composition that would permit a seamless transition from in vitro to in vivo use. The challenge is to replicate the complexity of the native extracellular matrix (ECM) environment with the minimum number of components necessary to allow cells to rebuild a given tissue. Our approach is to deconstruct the ECM to a few modular components that can be reassembled into biomimetic materials that meet these criteria. These semi-synthetic ECMs (sECMs) employ thiol-modified derivatives of hyaluronic acid (HA) that can form covalently crosslinked, biodegradable hydrogels. These sECMs are “living” biopolymers, meaning that they can be crosslinked in the presence of cells or tissues to enable cell therapy and tissue engineering. Moreover, the sECMs allow inclusion of the appropriate biological cues needed to simulate the complexity of the ECM of a given tissue. Taken together, the sECM technology offers a manufacturable, highly reproducible, flexible, FDA-approvable, and affordable vehicle for cell expansion and differentiation in 3-D.

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