Increased survival and function of mesenchymal stem cell spheroids entrapped in instructive alginate hydrogels

Steve S. Ho, Kaitlin C. Murphy, Bernard Y K Binder, Caroline B. Vissers, Jonathan K Leach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


Mesenchymal stem cell (MSC)-based therapies are under broad investigation for applications in tissue repair but suffer from poor cell persistence and engraftment upon transplantation. MSC spheroids exhibit improved survival, anti-inflammatory, and angiogenic potential in vitro, while also promoting vascularization when implanted in vivo. However, these benefits are lost once cells engage the tissue extracellular matrix and migrate from the aggregate. The efficacy of cell therapy is consistently improved when using engineered materials, motivating the need to investigate the role of biomaterials to instruct spheroid function. In order to assess the contribution of adhesivity on spheroid activity in engineered materials and promote the bone-forming potential of MSCs, we compared the function of MSC spheroids when entrapped in Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD)-modified alginate hydrogels to nonfouling unmodified alginate. Regardless of material, MSC spheroids exhibited reduced caspase activity and greater vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) secretion compared with equal numbers of dissociated cells. MSC spheroids in RGD-modified hydrogels demonstrated significantly greater cell survival than spheroids in unmodified alginate. After 5 days in culture, spheroids in RGD-modified gels had similar levels of apoptosis, but more than a twofold increase in VEGF secretion compared with spheroids in unmodified gels. All gels contained mineralized tissue 8 weeks after subcutaneous implantation, and cells entrapped in RGD-modified alginate exhibited greater mineralization versus cells in unmodified gels. Immunohistochemistry confirmed more diffuse osteocalcin staining in gels containing spheroids compared with dissociated controls. This study demonstrates the promise of cell-instructive biomaterials to direct survival and function of MSC spheroids for bone tissue engineering applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)773-781
Number of pages9
JournalStem cells translational medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Adhesion
  • Alginate
  • Mesenchymal stem cell
  • Osteogenesis
  • Spheroid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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