Published: Nov. 25, 2020


Hydrogels are a versatile class of polymeric networks that have been utilized for a wide variety of cell culture and tissue repair applications. Hydrogels can also be spatially confined as microscopic shapes (microgels) and used as structural components or delivery vehicles to affect cell function. Microgels have found numerous uses in cell culture, including as drug delivery vehicles, structural or bioactive components of bulk hydrogels, or cellular aggregates, and as 3D cell culture platforms. More recently, however, microgels have been utilized as the building blocks for cell culture scaffolds. These building blocks can be coordinated through physical entanglements or via external cross-linking agents. The ability to co-assemble functionalized particles with cells to create cell-laden scaffolds can lend itself to numerous tissue engineering applications. Thus, a bottom-up type fabrication can be used, not only to create porous scaffolds, but also to permit the assembly of heterogeneous particles and cells that can create varied complex culture environments. 


While templating or top-down fabrication approaches are typically used to fabricate scaffolds for regenerative medicine and tissue repair applications, cytocompatible bottom-up assembly methods, used in this technology, can afford the opportunity to assemble micro-porous systems in the presence of cells and create unique, complex polymer-cell composite systems in situ. Microgel building blocks with clickable surface groups can be synthesized for the bottom-up fabrication of porous cell-laden scaffolds. The facile nature of assembly allows for primary cells, stem cells, or cell lines to be incorporated throughout the porous scaffold. Finally, each microgel can be loaded with proteins or small molecules for localized delivery at defined concentrations.

This technology was invented by Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Kristi Anseth and her research group.


  • Distinct microgel populations can be co-assembled to create highly varied cell culture environments in the presence or absence of proteins/growth factors. 
  • This system allows for tunable porosity, allowing control over cellular growth and morphology. The ability to co-assemble functionalized particles with cells to create cell-laden scaffolds lends itself to numerous tissue engineering applications.
  • The introduction of bioactive moieties into the microsphere formulation allow for cell-matrix interactions, migration of delivered or endogenous cells, control of cell functions (e.g., proliferation, differentiation)


  • Porous scaffolds offer a high degree of tenability over both mechanical and chemical properties and can be used to recapitulate highly varied or complex tissue environments.
  • Collectively, the bio-click functionalized microgels and their cytocompatible assembly processes offer a unique platform to study and direct cell growth, interactions and function for both in vitro and in vivo applications.

What's Next?

This technology is available for exclusive or non-exclusive licensing.


Nicole Forsberg: