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Magnetic Stiffening in 3D Cell Culture Matrices

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journal contribution
posted on 25.08.2021, 07:30 by Wen Chen, Ying Zhang, Jyoti Kumari, Hans Engelkamp, Paul H. J. Kouwer
The mechanical environment of a cell is not constant. This dynamic behavior is exceedingly difficult to capture in (synthetic) in vitro matrices. This paper describes a novel, highly adaptive hybrid hydrogel composed of magnetically sensitive magnetite nanorods and a stress-responsive synthetic matrix. Nanorod rearrangement after application of (small) magnetic fields induces strain in the network, which results in a strong (over 10-fold) stiffening even at minimal (2.5 wt %) nanorod concentrations. Moreover, the stiffening mechanism yields a fast and fully reversible response. In the manuscript, we quantitatively analyze that forces generated by the particles are comparable to cellular forces. We demonstrate the value of magnetic stiffening in a 3D MCF10A epithelial cell experiment, where simply culturing on top of a permanent magnet gives rise to changes in the cell morphology. This work shows that our hydrogels are uniquely suited as 3D cell culture systems with on-demand adaptive mechanical properties.