Aurélien Pasturel, Pierre-Olivier Strale, Vincent Studer
Physiologically relevant cell-based models require engineered microenvironments which recapitulate the topographical, biochemical, and mechanical properties encountered in vivo. In this context, hydrogels are the materials of choice. Here a light-based toolbox is able to craft such microniches out of common place materials. Extensive use of benzophenone photoinitiators and their interaction with oxygen achieves this. First, the oxygen inhibition of radicals is harnessed to photoprint hydrogel topographies. Then the chemical properties of benzophenone are exploited to crosslink and functionalize native hydrogels lacking photosensitive moieties. At last, photoscission is introduced: an oxygen-driven, benzophenone-enabled reaction that photoliquefies Matrigel and other common gels. Using these tools, soft hydrogel templates are tailored for cells to grow or self-organize into standardized structures. The described workflow emerges as an effective microniche manufacturing toolset for 3D cell culture.