Bridging the Gap: From 2D Cell Culture to 3D Microengineered Extracellular Matrices

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Historically the culture of mammalian cells in the laboratory has been performed on planar substrates with media cocktails that are optimized to maintain phenotype. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that much of biology discerned from 2D studies does not translate well to the 3D microenvironment. Over the last several decades, 2D and 3D microengineering approaches have been developed that better recapitulate the complex architecture and properties of in vivo tissue. Inspired by the infrastructure of the microelectronics industry, lithographic patterning approaches have taken center stage because of the ease in which cell-sized features can be engineered on surfaces and within a broad range of biocompatible materials. Patterning and templating techniques enable precise control over extracellular matrix properties including: composition, mechanics, geometry, cell–cell contact, and diffusion. In this review article we explore how the field of engineered extracellular matrices has evolved with the development of new hydrogel chemistry and the maturation of micro- and nano- fabrication. Guided by the spatiotemporal regulation of cell state in developing tissues, techniques for micropatterning in 2D, pseudo-3D systems, and patterning within 3D hydrogels will be discussed in the context of translating the information gained from 2D systems to synthetic engineered 3D tissues.

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