Institute Affiliations

All Publications

  • A Library of Elastin-like Proteins with Tunable Matrix Ligands for In Vitro 3D Neural Cell Culture. Biomacromolecules Suhar, R. A., Huang, M. S., Navarro, R. S., Aviles Rodriguez, G., Heilshorn, S. C. 2023


    Hydrogels with encapsulated cells have widespread biomedical applications, both as tissue-mimetic 3D cultures in vitro and as tissue-engineered therapies in vivo. Within these hydrogels, the presentation of cell-instructive extracellular matrix (ECM)-derived ligands and matrix stiffness are critical factors known to influence numerous cell behaviors. While individual ECM biopolymers can be blended together to alter the presentation of cell-instructive ligands, this typically results in hydrogels with a range of mechanical properties. Synthetic systems that allow for the facile incorporation and modulation of multiple ligands without modification of matrix mechanics are highly desirable. In the present work, we leverage protein engineering to design a family of xeno-free hydrogels (i.e., devoid of animal-derived components) consisting of recombinant hyaluronan and recombinant elastin-like proteins (ELPs), cross-linked together with dynamic covalent bonds. The ELP components incorporate cell-instructive peptide ligands derived from ECM proteins, including fibronectin (RGD), laminin (IKVAV and YIGSR), collagen (DGEA), and tenascin-C (PLAEIDGIELTY and VFDNFVL). By carefully designing the protein primary sequence, we form 3D hydrogels with defined and tunable concentrations of cell-instructive ligands that have similar matrix mechanics. Utilizing this system, we demonstrate that neurite outgrowth from encapsulated embryonic dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cultures is significantly modified by cell-instructive ligand content. Thus, this library of protein-engineered hydrogels is a cell-compatible system to systematically study cell responses to matrix-derived ligands.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acs.biomac.3c00941

    View details for PubMedID 37988588

  • Cell Microencapsulation Within Engineered Hyaluronan Elastin-Like Protein (HELP) Hydrogels. Current protocols Hefferon, M. E., Huang, M. S., Liu, Y., Navarro, R. S., de Paiva Narciso, N., Zhang, D., Aviles-Rodriguez, G., Heilshorn, S. C. 2023; 3 (11): e917


    Three-dimensional cell encapsulation has rendered itself a staple in the tissue engineering field. Using recombinantly engineered, biopolymer-based hydrogels to encapsulate cells is especially promising due to the enhanced control and tunability it affords. Here, we describe in detail the synthesis of our hyaluronan (i.e., hyaluronic acid) and elastin-like protein (HELP) hydrogel system. In addition to validating the efficacy of our synthetic process, we also demonstrate the modularity of the HELP system. Finally, we show that cells can be encapsulated within HELP gels over a range of stiffnesses, exhibit strong viability, and respond to stiffness cues. © 2023 Wiley Periodicals LLC. Basic Protocol 1: Elastin-like protein modification with hydrazine Basic Protocol 2: Nuclear magnetic resonance quantification of elastin-like protein modification with hydrazine Basic Protocol 3: Hyaluronic acid-benzaldehyde synthesis Basic Protocol 4: Nuclear magnetic resonance quantification of hyaluronic acid-benzaldehyde Basic Protocol 5: 3D cell encapsulation in hyaluronan elastin-like protein gels.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/cpz1.917

    View details for PubMedID 37929691

  • Tunable hydrogel viscoelasticity modulates human neural maturation. Science advances Roth, J. G., Huang, M. S., Navarro, R. S., Akram, J. T., LeSavage, B. L., Heilshorn, S. C. 2023; 9 (42): eadh8313


    Human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) have emerged as a promising in vitro model system for studying neurodevelopment. However, current models remain limited in their ability to incorporate tunable biomechanical signaling cues imparted by the extracellular matrix (ECM). The native brain ECM is viscoelastic and stress-relaxing, exhibiting a time-dependent response to an applied force. To recapitulate the remodelability of the neural ECM, we developed a family of protein-engineered hydrogels that exhibit tunable stress relaxation rates. hiPSC-derived neural progenitor cells (NPCs) encapsulated within these gels underwent relaxation rate-dependent maturation. Specifically, NPCs within hydrogels with faster stress relaxation rates extended longer, more complex neuritic projections, exhibited decreased metabolic activity, and expressed higher levels of genes associated with neural maturation. By inhibiting actin polymerization, we observed decreased neuritic projections and a concomitant decrease in neural maturation gene expression. Together, these results suggest that microenvironmental viscoelasticity is sufficient to bias human NPC maturation.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/sciadv.adh8313

    View details for PubMedID 37862423

  • Spatially controlled construction of assembloids using bioprinting. Nature communications Roth, J. G., Brunel, L. G., Huang, M. S., Liu, Y., Cai, B., Sinha, S., Yang, F., Pașca, S. P., Shin, S., Heilshorn, S. C. 2023; 14 (1): 4346


    The biofabrication of three-dimensional (3D) tissues that recapitulate organ-specific architecture and function would benefit from temporal and spatial control of cell-cell interactions. Bioprinting, while potentially capable of achieving such control, is poorly suited to organoids with conserved cytoarchitectures that are susceptible to plastic deformation. Here, we develop a platform, termed Spatially Patterned Organoid Transfer (SPOT), consisting of an iron-oxide nanoparticle laden hydrogel and magnetized 3D printer to enable the controlled lifting, transport, and deposition of organoids. We identify cellulose nanofibers as both an ideal biomaterial for encasing organoids with magnetic nanoparticles and a shear-thinning, self-healing support hydrogel for maintaining the spatial positioning of organoids to facilitate the generation of assembloids. We leverage SPOT to create precisely arranged assembloids composed of human pluripotent stem cell-derived neural organoids and patient-derived glioma organoids. In doing so, we demonstrate the potential for the SPOT platform to construct assembloids which recapitulate key developmental processes and disease etiologies.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-023-40006-5

    View details for PubMedID 37468483

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10356773

  • Elastin-like protein hydrogels with controllable stress relaxation rate and stiffness modulate endothelial cell function. Journal of biomedical materials research. Part A Shayan, M., Huang, M. S., Navarro, R., Chiang, G., Hu, C., Oropeza, B. P., Johansson, P. K., Suhar, R. A., Foster, A. A., LeSavage, B. L., Zamani, M., Enejder, A., Roth, J. G., Heilshorn, S. C., Huang, N. F. 2023


    Mechanical cues from the extracellular matrix (ECM) regulate vascular endothelial cell (EC) morphology and function. Since naturally derived ECMs are viscoelastic, cells respond to viscoelastic matrices that exhibit stress relaxation, in which a cell-applied force results in matrix remodeling. To decouple the effects of stress relaxation rate from substrate stiffness on EC behavior, we engineered elastin-like protein (ELP) hydrogels in which dynamic covalent chemistry (DCC) was used to crosslink hydrazine-modified ELP (ELP-HYD) and aldehyde/benzaldehyde-modified polyethylene glycol (PEG-ALD/PEG-BZA). The reversible DCC crosslinks in ELP-PEG hydrogels create a matrix with independently tunable stiffness and stress relaxation rate. By formulating fast-relaxing or slow-relaxing hydrogels with a range of stiffness (500-3300Pa), we examined the effect of these mechanical properties on EC spreading, proliferation, vascular sprouting, and vascularization. The results show that both stress relaxation rate and stiffness modulate endothelial spreading on two-dimensional substrates, on which ECs exhibited greater cell spreading on fast-relaxing hydrogels up through 3days, compared with slow-relaxing hydrogels at the same stiffness. In three-dimensional hydrogels encapsulating ECs and fibroblasts in coculture, the fast-relaxing, low-stiffness hydrogels produced the widest vascular sprouts, a measure of vessel maturity. This finding was validated in a murine subcutaneous implantation model, in which the fast-relaxing, low-stiffness hydrogel produced significantly more vascularization compared with the slow-relaxing, low-stiffness hydrogel. Together, these results suggest that both stress relaxation rate and stiffness modulate endothelial behavior, and that the fast-relaxing, low-stiffness hydrogels supported the highest capillary density in vivo.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/jbm.a.37520

    View details for PubMedID 36861665

  • Mobility mediates maturation: Synthetic substrates to enhance neural differentiation. Cell stem cell Roth, J. G., Huang, M. S., Heilshorn, S. C. 2023; 30 (2): 115-117


    The maturation of human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived neurons in 2D is dependent upon cell attachment, spreading, and pathfinding across a biomaterial substrate. In this issue of Cell Stem Cell, Alvarez etal.1 demonstrate that highly mobile supramolecular scaffolds facilitate long-term hiPSC-derived motor neuron culture, increase maturation-related phenotypes, and recapitulate disease-relevant pathologies.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.stem.2023.01.001

    View details for PubMedID 36736286

  • Tuning Polymer Hydrophilicity to Regulate Gel Mechanics and Encapsulated Cell Morphology. Advanced healthcare materials Navarro, R. S., Huang, M. S., Roth, J. G., Hubka, K. M., Long, C. M., Enejder, A., Heilshorn, S. C. 2022: e2200011


    Mechanically tunable hydrogels are attractive platforms for three-dimensional cell culture, as hydrogel stiffness plays an important role in cell behavior. Traditionally, hydrogel stiffness has been controlled through altering either the polymer concentration or the stoichiometry between crosslinker reactive groups. Here, we present an alternative strategy based upon tuning the hydrophilicity of an elastin-like protein (ELP). ELPs undergo a phase transition that leads to protein aggregation at increasing temperatures. We hypothesize that increasing this transition temperature through bioconjugation with azide-containing molecules of increasing hydrophilicity will allow direct control of the resulting gel stiffness by making the crosslinking groups more accessible. These azide-modified ELPs are crosslinked into hydrogels with bicyclononyne-modified hyaluronic acid (HA-BCN) using bioorthogonal, click chemistry, resulting in hydrogels with tunable storage moduli (100-1000Pa). Human mesenchymal stromal cells, human umbilical vein endothelial cells, and human neural progenitor cells are all observed to alter their cell morphology when encapsulated within hydrogels of varying stiffness. Taken together, we demonstrate the use of protein hydrophilicity as a lever to tune hydrogel mechanical properties. These hydrogels have tunable moduli over a stiffness range relevant to soft tissues, support the viability of encapsulated cells, and modify cell spreading as a consequence of gel stiffness. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/adhm.202200011

    View details for PubMedID 35373510

  • Advancing models of neural development with biomaterials. Nature reviews. Neuroscience Roth, J. G., Huang, M. S., Li, T. L., Feig, V. R., Jiang, Y., Cui, B., Greely, H. T., Bao, Z., Pasca, S. P., Heilshorn, S. C. 2021


    Human pluripotent stem cells have emerged as a promising in vitro model system for studying the brain. Two-dimensional and three-dimensional cell culture paradigms have provided valuable insights into the pathogenesis of neuropsychiatric disorders, but they remain limited in their capacity to model certain features of human neural development. Specifically, current models do not efficiently incorporate extracellular matrix-derived biochemical and biophysical cues, facilitate multicellular spatio-temporal patterning, or achieve advanced functional maturation. Engineered biomaterials have the capacity to create increasingly biomimetic neural microenvironments, yet further refinement is needed before these approaches are widely implemented. This Review therefore highlights how continued progression and increased integration of engineered biomaterials may be well poised to address intractable challenges in recapitulating human neural development.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41583-021-00496-y

    View details for PubMedID 34376834