Elastic serum-albumin based hydrogels: mechanism of formation and application in cardiac tissue engineering

Amdursky, Nadav and Mazo, Manuel M and Thomas, Michael R and Humphrey, Eleanor J and Puetzer, Jennifer L and St-Pierre, Jean-Philippe and Skaalure, Stacey C and Richardson, Robert M and Terracciano, Cesare M and Stevens, Molly M
Journal of Materials Chemistry B, 6(35): 5604-5612, 2018

Hydrogels are promising materials for mimicking the extra-cellular environment. Here, we present a simple methodology for the formation of a free-standing viscoelastic hydrogel from the abundant and low cost protein serum albumin. We show that the mechanical properties of the hydrogel exhibit a complicated behaviour as a function of the weight fraction of the protein component. We further use X-ray scattering to shed light on the mechanism of gelation from the formation of a fibrillary network at low weight fractions to interconnected aggregates at higher weight fractions. Given the match between our hydrogel elasticity and that of the myocardium, we investigated its potential for supporting cardiac cells in vitro. Interestingly, these hydrogels support the formation of several layers of myocytes and significantly promote the maintenance of a native-like gene expression profile compared to those cultured on glass. When confronted with a multicellular ventricular cell preparation, the hydrogels can support macroscopically contracting cardiac-like tissues with a distinct cell arrangement, and form mm-long vascular-like structures. We envisage that our simple approach for the formation of an elastic substrate from an abundant protein makes the hydrogel a compelling biomedical material candidate for a wide range of cell types.