Tunable fibrin-alginate interpenetrating network hydrogels to support cell spreading and network formation

Charlotte E. Vorwald, Tomas Gonzalez-Fernandez, Shreeya Joshee, Pawel Sikorski, J. Kent Leach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Hydrogels are effective platforms for use as artificial extracellular matrices, cell carriers, and to present bioactive cues. Two common natural polymers, fibrin and alginate, are broadly used to form hydrogels and have numerous advantages over synthetic materials. Fibrin is a provisional matrix containing native adhesion motifs for cell engagement, yet the interplay between mechanical properties, degradation, and gelation rate is difficult to decouple. Conversely, alginate is highly tunable yet bioinert and requires modification to present necessary adhesion ligands. To address these challenges, we developed a fibrin-alginate interpenetrating network (IPN) hydrogel to combine the desirable adhesion and stimulatory characteristics of fibrin with the tunable mechanical properties of alginate. We tested its efficacy by examining capillary network formation with entrapped co-cultures of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) and endothelial cells (ECs). We manipulated thrombin concentration and alginate crosslinking density independently to modulate the fibrin structure, mesh size, degradation, and biomechanical properties of these constructs. In IPNs of lower stiffness, we observed a significant increase in total cell area (1.7 × 105 ± 7.9 × 104 µm2) and decrease in circularity (0.56 ± 0.03) compared to cells encapsulated in stiffer IPNs (4.0 × 104 ± 1.5 × 104 µm2 and 0.77 ± 0.09, respectively). Fibrinogen content did not influence capillary network formation. However, higher fibrinogen content led to greater retention of these networks confirmed via increased spreading and presence of F-actin at 7 days. This is an elegant platform to decouple cell adhesion and hydrogel bulk stiffness that will be broadly useful for cell instruction and delivery. Statement of significance: Hydrogels are widely used as drug and cell delivery vehicles and as artificial extracellular matrices to study cellular responses. However, there are limited opportunities to simultaneously control mechanical properties and degradation while mimicking the complex native adhesion motifs and ligands known to encourage cell engagement with the hydrogel. In this study, we describe a fibrin-alginate interpenetrating network (IPN) hydrogel designed to balance the compliance and provisional qualities of fibrin with the mechanical stability and tunability of alginate to interrogate these contributions on cell response. We used clinically relevant cell sources, a co-culture of endothelial cells and mesenchymal stromal cells, to test its efficacy in supporting capillary formation in vitro. These data demonstrate the promise of this IPN for use in tissue engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2020


  • Alginate
  • Endothelial cell
  • Fibrin
  • Interpenetrating network
  • Mesenchymal stromal cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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