Injectable biodegradable cell carriers provide a potential means to improve transplanted cell viability in the nervous system by providing physical protection from compaction, shear forces, and the acute inflammatory response that occurs following transplantation into the host brain environment. Synthetic polyethylene glycol (PEG) hydrogels are ideal candidates for this purpose, as the degradation profile and mechanical properties of the gel can be controlled. Here we introduce biological components into the synthetic gel with the goal of improving neural cell function in the inert PEG environment. In this study, it was found that (1) bFGF-2 is a survival/mitogenic factor for neural precursor cells in degradable hydrogel cultures, (2) collagen has no measurable effect on cell survival, metabolic activity, or proliferation, and (3) co-application of collagen and bFGF-2 to hydrogel cultures targets cell survival and metabolic activity, an effect that is different than either applied individually. Because collagen and bFGF-2 support the survival and growth of neural cells and other cell types, the co-encapsulation approach and functional characterization described in this study can be extended to the development of an array of tissue engineering applications. These findings suggest the importance of understanding and developing strategies to control the chemical microenvironment surrounding cells in three-dimensional biomaterials.
Copyright 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.