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A Peptide Hydrogel for Efficient Production of Cell Spheroids

New hydrogel could have implications for studying cellular complexes as well as drug screening

This study was led by professor Zhimou Yang and professor Quan Chen (College of Life Sciences in Nankai University), and professor Jianfeng Liu (Institute of Radiation Medicine, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences). Yang, who has worked in the research field of peptide self-assembly biomaterials for more than 15 years, designed the peptide hydrogel for cell spheroids production. “Supramolecular hydrogels of self-assembling short peptides are promising for cell 3D culturing because they are biocompatible and are composed of nanofibers similar to the extracellular matrix. However, peptide hydrogels for cell spheroid production are rarely reported.” Yang says.

The peptide that formed the hydrogel contained two parts: one is the self-assembling part that contains biotin groups and the other is the bioactive part for regulating cell adhesion and growth. Peptide fragments derived from laminin and an integrin-binding peptide are encoded into the peptide sequence of the bioactive part.

The hydrogel formed by the supramolecular self-assembling of this peptide is termed “SupraGel” by the team. The team in Yang’s lab performed rheological measurements of SupraGel and found that it could transform into a solution by simply vigorously shaking by hand, and the resulting solution could form a hydrogel again after approximately 10 min. “These features are critical for incorporating cells and isolating cell spheroids.” Yang says.

Yang’s team cultured several kinds of cancer cells in SupraGel. After seven days of growth, each single cell divided into many cells and formed spheroids spontaneously. The team then collaborated with Chen, who is an expert in cell biology, to test whether SupraGel was suitable for stem cell culturing and spheroid production.

The researchers found that intestinal stem cells (ISCs) could grow into spheroids after 15 days of cell culture in SupraGel. They also compared ISCs spheroids in both SupraGel and commercially available Matrigel and found that SupraGel helped to maintain the stemness of ISCs during the formation of the spheroids better than Matrigel did.

"We envision significant potential for SupraGel in cell spheroid preparation and a range of related applications, such as studying cellular complexities and screening drugs." Yang added.

- This press release was provided by Science China Press website