Microfabrication of spatially-patterned, polymer scaffolds for applications in stem cell and tissue engineering
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Tissue engineering is a recently developed field that combines material science, cell biology, and engineering to create or improve functional tissues/organs. The field of tissue engineering has progressed from a fledgling science to an emerging technology, in large part due to parallel advances in the application of biomaterials and understanding stem cell behavior. Current studies have evaluated certain types of natural and synthetic biomaterials for feasibility of replicating the physio-chemical microenvironments of stem cells. Furthermore, technologies derived from micro-machining and solid free-form fabrication industries have utilized these biomaterials to create scaffolds that resemble tissue-like structures. Recent scaffold fabrication methods have attempted to overcome certain challenges in engineering tissues and organs. One of the fundamental limitations in current tissue engineering efforts has been the inability to develop multiple tissue types (i.e. bone, cartilage, muscles, ligaments) within a single scaffold structure in a predesigned manner. The differentiation of multiple cells within a three-dimensional (3D) scaffold using a single stem cell population has yet to be developed due to challenges in integrating various biochemical factors in a spatially-patterned method. This dissertation discusses scaffold micro-fabrication techniques that use layerby-layer, ultraviolet-based (UV) stereolithography systems. These approaches in microfabricating scaffolds provide an optimal, biomimetic environment for the pre-patterned differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells into skeletal-type tissues. We demonstrated both laser-based and digital micromirror device-based stereolithography systems for creating intricate scaffold architectures with multiple bio-factors encapsulated in predetermined regions. We showed that micro-stereolithography has the powerful capability of building 3D complex scaffolds with specific pore sizes and shapes in a layer-by-layer fashion using photo-crosslinkable monomers. These polymer-based scaffolds were functionalized with specific signaling proteins to create a biomimetic niche in which stem cells can respond, attach, and differentiate. The ultimate goal of this project is to integrate novel concepts of micro-manufacturing along with polymer-controlled release kinetics and stem cell biology to attain pre-designed architectures of tissue structures.