Understanding mechanisms of stem cell tubulogenesis in PEGylated fibrin for improving neovascularization therapies
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Stem cell-based therapies are an important developing technology for treating cardiovascular ischemic disease, including subsequent co-morbidities such as ulcerative wounds. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have a proven ability to augment wound healing and neovascularization processes and have been more recently investigated for their endothelial-like behavior. This doctoral work aims to understand mechanisms underlying matrix-driven MSC tubulogenesis within PEGylated fibrin gels, specifically (1) why this behavior occurs and (2) if this behavior has clinical utility. Briefly, a three-dimensional morphological quantification pipeline was first developed for analyzing the maturity of vascular networks (Chapter 2). This method was applied in later studies that examined the full spectrum of MSC behavior in PEGylated fibrin gels, linking biomaterial properties with network development (Chapter 3). Mechanisms underlying the cell-matrix relationship were more fully clarified through gain-of-function cell studies. These studies indicated that PEGylated fibrin promotes endothelial-like MSC behavior through a combination of hypoxic stress and bioactive fibrin cues (Chapter 4). Notably, this endothelial-like MSC behavior closely mirrored vasculogenic mimicry, a process whereby tumors establish non-endothelialized vasculature in response to hypoxic stress. The functionality of these tumor vessels suggests that mature endothelial differentiation of MSCs may not be necessary to achieve therapeutically beneficial tissue perfusion. This hypothesis opens up new mechanisms for exploitation in vascular tissue engineering strategies.