Cellular microenvironments present cells with multiple stimuli, including not only soluble biochemical and insoluble matrix cues but also mechanical factors. Biomaterial array platforms have been used to combinatorially and efficiently probe and define two-dimensional (2D) and 3D microenvironmental cues to guide cell functions for tissue engineering applications. However, there are few examples of array platforms that include dynamic mechanical forces, particularly to enable stretching of 3D cell-seeded biomaterials, which is relevant to engineering connective and cardiovascular tissues. Here we present a deformable membrane platform that enables 3D dynamic mechanical stretch of arrayed biomaterial constructs. Cell-seeded polyethylene glycol norbornene (PEG-NB) hydrogels were bound to miniaturized deformable membranes via a thiol-ene reaction with off-stoichiometry thiol-ene based polydimethylsiloxane (OSTE-PDMS) as the membrane material. Bonding to OSTE-PDMS enabled the 3D hydrogel microconstructs to be cyclically deformed and stretched by the membrane. As a first demonstration, human mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) embedded in PEG-NB were stretched for several days. They were found to be viable, spread in the 3D hydrogels, and exhibited a contractile myofibroblast phenotype when exposed to dynamic 3D mechanical deformation. This platform, which is readily scalable to larger arrays, enables systematic interrogation of the relationships between combinations of 3D mechanobiological cues and cellular responses, and thus has the potential to identify strategies to predictably control the construction of functional engineered tissues.

This article originally appeared in Acta Biomaterialia34, 2016, Pages 113–124.