Engineering fibrin hydrogels to promote the wound healing potential of mesenchymal stem cell spheroids

Kaitlin C. Murphy, Jacklyn Whitehead, Dejie Zhou, Steve S. Ho, J. Kent Leach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) secrete endogenous factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) that promote angiogenesis, modulate the inflammatory microenvironment, and stimulate wound repair, and MSC spheroids secrete more trophic factors than dissociated, individual MSCs. Compared to injection of cells alone, transplantation of MSCs in a biomaterial can enhance their wound healing potential by localizing cells at the defect site and upregulating trophic factor secretion. To capitalize on the therapeutic potential of spheroids, we engineered a fibrin gel delivery vehicle to simultaneously enhance the proangiogenic and anti-inflammatory potential of entrapped human MSC spheroids. We used multifactorial statistical analysis to determine the interaction between four input variables derived from fibrin gel synthesis on four output variables (gel stiffness, gel contraction, and secretion of VEGF and PGE2). Manipulation of the four input variables tuned fibrin gel biophysical properties to promote the simultaneous secretion of VEGF and PGE2 by entrapped MSC spheroids while maintaining overall gel integrity. MSC spheroids in stiffer gels secreted the most VEGF, while PGE2 secretion was highest in more compliant gels. Simultaneous VEGF and PGE2 secretion was greatest using hydrogels with intermediate mechanical properties, as small increases in stiffness increased VEGF secretion while maintaining PGE2 secretion by entrapped spheroids. The fibrin gel formulation predicted to simultaneously increase VEGF and PGE2 secretion stimulated endothelial cell proliferation, enhanced macrophage polarization, and promoted angiogenesis when used to treat a wounded three-dimensional human skin equivalent. These data demonstrate that a statistical approach is an effective strategy to formulate fibrin gel formulations that enhance the wound healing potential of human MSCs. Statement of Significance: Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are under investigation for wound healing applications due to their secretion of bioactive factors that enhance granulation tissue formation, blood vessel ingrowth, and reduce inflammation. However, the effectiveness of cell-based therapies is reduced due to poor engraftment and high rates of cell death when transplanted into harsh environments characteristic of large wounds. Compared to dissociated cells, MSCs exhibit increased overall function when aggregated into three-dimensional spheroids, and transplantation of cells using biomaterials is one strategy for guiding cell function in the defect site. The present study demonstrates that the biophysical properties of fibrin hydrogels, designed for use as a cell carrier, can be engineered to dictate the secretion of bioactive factors by entrapped MSC spheroids. This strategy enables MSCs to contribute to wound healing by synergistically promoting neovascularization and modulating the inflammatory milieu.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StateAccepted/In press - 2017


  • Fibrin
  • Mesenchymal stem cells
  • Spheroids
  • Trophic factors
  • Wound healing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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