Gradients of soluble factors play an important role in many biological processes, including blood vessel assembly. Gradients can be studied in detail in vitro, but methods that enable the study of spatially distributed soluble factors and multi-cellular processes in vivo are limited. Here, we report on a method for the generation of persistent in vivo gradients of growth factors in a three-dimensional (3D) biomaterial system. Fibrin loaded porous poly (ethylene glycol) (PEG) scaffolds were generated using a particulate leaching method. Platelet derived growth factor BB (PDGF-BB) was encapsulated into poly (lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) microspheres which were placed distal to the tissue-material interface. PLGA provides sustained release of PDGF-BB and its diffusion through the porous structure results in gradient formation. Gradients within the scaffold were confirmed in vivo using near-infrared fluorescence imaging and gradients were present for more than 3 weeks. The diffusion of PDGF-BB was modeled and verified with in vivo imaging findings. The depth of tissue invasion and density of blood vessels formed in response to the biomaterial increased with magnitude of the gradient. This biomaterial system allows for generation of sustained growth factor gradients for the study of tissue response to gradients in vivo.
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