Understanding how cells receive information from their microenvironment is critical in applications ranging from the development of physiologically-relevant cell culture systems to engineering matrices that direct cell function for tissue regeneration. Often it is arduous and complex to determine which extracellular cues are most important or critical, and this has necessitated the synthesis and design of material niches to answer these complex questions. The biomaterials community has made great strides in the past decade in the development of highly-defined material substrates to better understand how cell processes and interactions can be systemtatically controlled and explicitly directed through material properties and chemistry. For example, we now know some detailed effects of chemical functionality, ligand presentation, material stiffness, surface topography, and surface patterning on cell adhesion, proliferation, apoptosis, secretory properties, and differentiation.
While cells cultured on biomaterial surfaces have provided the field with many useful insights and valuable knowledge about how cells function in response to well-defined cues from their local surroundings, an unanswered question is how this knowledge will correlate to the complex in vivo environment. For example, one might expect dramatic variations in cell motility in 2D versus 3D environments, where the latter confines the cell to a dense matrix that it must degrade or deform. Moreover, the transport of oxygen, nutrients, and waste present much more challenging demands in the 3D environment. This disparity in cell function and viability based simply on the dimensionality of culture has led to a growing interest in designing and utilizing 3D biomaterial systems to better understand how cells sense and receive information from their 3D niches. However, biological techniques originally developed for characterizing cells in 2D culture, including commonplace techniques such as immunostaining and isolating proteins and DNA, are much more difficult to perform in 3D and often require re-optimization and longer timescales when translated to platforms in which cells are encapsulated. Furthermore, understanding how cells remodel their microenvironments is still less understood, and many of the fabrication methods used to create highly-defined cell substrata are not readily translated to 3D.
This workshop will seek to address many of the grand challenges for biomaterial scientists and engineers as we seek to design materials that direct, control, or manipulate cell interactions. In particular, these topics will include the need for multifunctional materials, bioorthogonal chemistries, dynamic and reversible control of properties, contextual presentation of biomolecules, and chemical vs. mechanical signals.