The overall theme of the Stem Cell group is to combine mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells and hydrogel-based biomaterials to model and study defined aspects of neural development and stem cell biology. First, we are interested in developing hydrogel matrices for encapsulation of ES cell derived motor neurons (ES motor neurons) and for directing motor axon outgrowth using developmentally relevant axon guidance cues and extracellular-matrix (ECM) based peptides or proteins. In addition, we are interested in recapitulating molecular gradients that drive the patterning of the developing central nervous system (CNS) in vivo using various hydrogel-based approaches. Moreover, we are testing the ability of 3D hydrogel systems to maintain the pluripotent ES cell state under long-term culture regiments when tethered with ECM and cell-cell contact based cues. Finally, we are investigating the effects of hydrogel stiffness on differentiation of ES cells. Together these studies will likely provide novel insights into the molecular mechanisms that drive neural development and stem cell differentiation, and operate to maintain pluripotency of ES cells. These approaches are of significant interest to studies on stem cell biology, neural development and regenerative medicine.