Droplet Microarray Based on Patterned Superhydrophobic Surfaces Prevents Stem Cell Differentiation and Enables High-Throughput Stem Cell Screening

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Over the past decades, stem cells have attracted growing interest in fundamental biological and biomedical research as well as in regenerative medicine, due to their unique ability to self-renew and differentiate into various cell types. Long-term maintenance of the self-renewal ability and inhibition of spontaneous differentiation, however, still remain challenging and are not fully understood. Uncontrolled spontaneous differentiation of stem cells makes high-throughput screening of stem cells also difficult. This further hinders investigation of the underlying mechanisms of stem cell differentiation and the factors that might affect it. In this work, a dual functionality of nanoporous superhydrophobic–hydrophilic micropatterns is demonstrated in their ability to inhibit differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) and at the same time enable formation of arrays of microdroplets (droplet microarray) via the effect of discontinuous dewetting. Such combination makes high-throughput screening of undifferentiated mouse embryonic stem cells possible. The droplet microarray is used to investigate the development, differentiation, and maintenance of stemness of mESC, revealing the dependence of stem cell behavior on droplet volume in nano- and microliter scale. The inhibition of spontaneous differentiation of mESCs cultured on the droplet microarray for up to 72 h is observed. In addition, up to fourfold increased cell growth rate of mESCs cultured on our platform has been observed. The difference in the behavior of mESCs is attributed to the porosity and roughness of the polymer surface. This work demonstrates that the droplet microarray possesses the potential for the screening of mESCs under conditions of prolonged inhibition of stem cells' spontaneous differentiation. Such a platform can be useful for applications in the field of stem cell research, pharmacological testing of drug efficacy and toxicity, biomedical research as well as in the field of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.

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