The extracellular matrix (ECM) is the non-cellular component of tissue that provides physical scaffolding to cells. Emerging studies have shown that beyond structural support, the ECM provides tissue-specific biochemical and biophysical cues that are required for tissue morphogenesis and homeostasis. Hydrogel-based platforms have played a key role in advancing our knowledge of the role of ECM in regulating various cellular functions. Synthetic hydrogels allow for tunable biofunctionality, as their material properties can be tailored to mimic those of native tissues. This review discusses current advances in the design of hydrogels with defined physical and chemical properties. We also highlight research findings that demonstrate the impact of matrix properties on directing stem cell fate, such as self-renewal and differentiation. Recent and future efforts towards understanding cell-material interactions will not only advance our basic understanding, but will also help design tissue-specific matrices and delivery systems to transplant stem cells and control their response in vivo.
González-Díaz, E., & Varghese, S. (2016). Hydrogels as Extracellular Matrix Analogs. Gels, 2(3), 20. https://doi.org/10.3390/gels2030020