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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Temporal changes guided by mesenchymal stem cells on a 3D microgel platform enhance angiogenesis in vivo at a low-cell dose


Therapeutic factors secreted by mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) promote angiogenesis in vivo. However, delivery of MSCs in the absence of a cytoprotective environment offers limited efficacy due to low cell retention, poor graft survival, and the nonmaintenance of a physiologically relevant dose of growth factors at the injury site. The delivery of stem cells on an extracellular matrix (ECM)-based platform alters cell behavior, including migration, proliferation, and paracrine activity, which are essential for angiogenesis. We demonstrate the biophysical and biochemical effects of preconditioning human MSCs (hMSCs) for 96 h on a three-dimensional (3D) ECM-based microgel platform. By altering the macromolecular concentration surrounding cells in the microgels, the proangiogenic phenotype of hMSCs can be tuned in a controlled manner through cell-driven changes in extracellular stiffness and "outside-in" integrin signaling. The softest microgels were tested at a low cell dose (5 × 104 cells) in a preclinical hindlimb ischemia model showing accelerated formation of new blood vessels with a reduced inflammatory response impeding progression of tissue damage. Molecular analysis revealed that several key mediators of angiogenesis were up-regulated in the low-cell-dose microgel group, providing a mechanistic insight of pathways modulated in vivo. Our research adds to current knowledge in cell-encapsulation strategies by highlighting the importance of preconditioning or priming the capacity of biomaterials through cell-material interactions. Obtaining therapeutic efficacy at a low cell dose in the microgel platform is a promising clinical route that would aid faster tissue repair and reperfusion in "no-option" patients suffering from peripheral arterial diseases, such as critical limb ischemia (CLI).

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