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Site-Directed Differentiation of Human Adipose-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells to Nucleus Pulposus Cells Using an Injectable Hydroxyl-Functional Diblock Copolymer Worm Gel

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journal contribution
posted on 20.01.2021, 15:14 by Abbie L. A. Binch, Liam P. D. Ratcliffe, Amir H. Milani, Brian R. Saunders, Steven P. Armes, Judith A. Hoyland
Adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ASCs) have been identified for their promising therapeutic potential to regenerate and repopulate the degenerate intervertebral disk (IVD), which is a major cause of lower back pain. The optimal cell delivery system remains elusive but encapsulation of cells within scaffolds is likely to offer a decisive advantage over the delivery of cells in solution by ensuring successful retention within the tissue. Herein, we evaluate the use of a fully synthetic, thermoresponsive poly­(glycerol monomethacrylate)-poly­(2-hydroxypropyl methacrylate) (PGMA-PHPMA) diblock copolymer worm gel that mimics the structure of hydrophilic glycosaminoglycans. The objective was to use this gel to direct differentiation of human ASCs toward a nucleus pulposus (NP) phenotype, with or without the addition of discogenic growth factors TGFβ or GDF6. Accordingly, human ASCs were incorporated into a cold, free-flowing aqueous dispersion of the diblock copolymer, gelation induced by warming to 37 °C and cell culture was conducted for 14 days with or without such growth factors to assess the expression of characteristic NP markers compared to those produced when using collagen gels. In principle, the shear-thinning nature of the biocompatible worm gel enables encapsulated human ASCs to be injected into the IVD using a 21G needle. Moreover, we find significantly higher gene expression levels of ACAN, SOX-9, KRT8, and KR18 for ASCs encapsulated within worm gels compared to collagen scaffolds, regardless of the growth factors employed. In summary, such wholly synthetic worm gels offer considerable potential as an injectable cell delivery scaffold for the treatment of degenerate disk disease by promoting the transition of ASCs toward an NP-phenotype.