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Hydrogels are widely used materials ranging from contact lenses to diapers to cell culture and to pharmaceutical products. Hydrogels consist of hydrophilic polymers which build-up a three dimensional entangled network. In the past decades, many different methods to fabricate and modify these hydrogels according to their needs have been devised. Yet, in particular for cell and developmental biology, new challenging demands arise every day. One challenge is that often hydrogels are produced by toxic chemical reactions or hydrogels are poorly defined in their structural arrangement. A newly discovered reaction enabled researchers now to create such hydrogels without toxic chemicals and with submicron precision in 3D.
Jungnickel and Tsurkan et al. introduced the light activated two-photon [2+2] cycloaddition of maleimide groups to create and manipulate with high precision in three dimensions. They used the hydrophilic polymer polyethylene glycol (PEG) with maleimide groups to synthesize in a bottom-up process hydrogels with small fibers down to a few hundred nanometers. They further showed that using the same light-activated reaction, site-selective modifications of biomolecules could be integrated into hydrogels.
This discovery opens the door to a broad variety of applications ranging from single-cell encapsulation to submicron precise incorporation of signaling molecules for the differentiation of cells, or to modifications of bulk hydrogels for material sciences.
Picture: Two-photon [2+2] cycloaddition of maleimide groups allows arbitrary structuring of hydrogels and surfaces. Here, a fluorescent marker was patterned with sub-micron precision in a PEG-based hydrogel.
Bottom-Up Structuring and Site-Selective Modification of Hydrogels Using a Two-Photon [2+2] Cycloaddition of Maleimide
Christiane Jungnickel, Mikhail V. Tsurkan, Kristin Wogan, Carsten Werner and Michael Schlierf
Advanced Materials, published online 8 Nov 2016
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