The biopolymer gelatin methacrylate (GelMA) is widely used by scientists transitioning from 2D cell culturing to 3D cell culturing for a range of applications, including cancer research, drug testing, toxicology, and tissue engineering. Here are five reasons why:
GelMA hydrogel promotes cell adhesion and proliferation with nearly any cell type thanks to its biological motifs (specifically, the RGD sequences on the gelatin molecules). These sequences allow cells to adhere to GelMA constructs and complete biological processes such as diffusing oxygen and transferring nutrients or waste.
The goal of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine is to promote and enhance the body’s healing process, so bioprinted constructs should be biodegradable. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMP sites) in GelMA allow it to be recognized by the injured body’s cells as an enzymatic degradation site. Once native cells have populated the GelMA construct, they begin to degrade it as they repair and repopulate the area with their own cells and tissues.
Because the degree of substitution in GelMA impacts the viscosity of the polymer as well as its mechanical properties (e.g., compression and tensile strength), the hydrogel is easily customizable by the user. An interesting example of this hydrogel’s versatility is that it can act as a thermo-reversible polymer or it can be covalently crosslinked to behave like a thermo-set polymer.
Another reason for GelMA’s popularity in academic and commercial labs is its ability to produce complex shapes. Using techniques borrowed from additive manufacturing, scientists have been able to create complex 3D structures with GelMA that allow cells to thrive in microenvironments that are closer to the conditions in vivo.
Since gelatin is a naturally occurring polymer, it is inherently heterogenous in its molecular structure. This makes it an ideal material for creating physiologically relevant constructs with various gradients of strength and ductility that better mimic in vivo conditions. With GelMA, researchers can seed multiple cell types in a single construct with different cellular microenvironments for each type.