Critical limb ischemia impairs circulation to the extremities, causing pain, disrupted wound healing, and potential tissue necrosis. Therapeutic angiogenesis seeks to repair the damaged microvasculature directly to restore blood flow. In this study, we developed modular, micro-scale constructs designed to possess robust handling qualities, allow in vitro pre-culture, and promote microvasculature formation. The microbead matrix consisted of an agarose (AG) base to prevent aggregation, combined with cell-adhesive components of fibrinogen (FGN) and/or hydroxyapatite (HA). Microbeads encapsulating a co-culture of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) and fibroblasts were prepared and characterized. Microbeads were generally 80-100µm in diameter, and the size increased with the addition of FGN and HA. Addition of HA increased the yield of microbeads, as well as the homogeneity of distribution of FGN within the matrix. Cell viability was high in all microbead types. When cell-seeded microbeads were embedded in fibrin hydrogels, HUVEC sprouting and inosculation between neighboring microbeads were observed over seven days. Pre-culture of microbeads for an additional seven days prior to embedding in fibrin resulted in significantly greater HUVEC network length in AG+HA+FGN microbeads, as compared to AG, AG+HA or AG+FGN microbeads. Importantly, composite microbeads resulted in more even and widespread endothelial network formation, relative to control microbeads consisting of pure fibrin. These results demonstrate that AG+HA+FGN microbeads support HUVEC sprouting both within and between adjacent microbeads, and can promote distributed vascularization of an external matrix. Such modular microtissues may have utility in treating ischemic tissue by rapidly re-establishing a microvascular network.
Statement of significance: Critical limb ischemia (CLI) is a chronic disease that can lead to tissue necrosis, amputation, and death. Cell-based therapies are being explored to restore blood flow and prevent the complications of CLI. In this study, we developed small, non-aggregating agarose-hydroxyapatite-fibrinogen microbeads that contained endothelial cells and fibroblasts. Microbeads were easy to handle and culture, and endothelial sprouts formed within and between microbeads. Our data demonstrates that the composition of the microbead matrix altered the degree of endothelial sprouting, and that the addition of hydroxyapatite and fibrinogen resulted in more distributed sprouting compared to pure fibrin microbeads. The microbead format and control of the matrix formulation may therefore be useful in developing revascularization strategies for the treatment of ischemic disease.
Keywords: Agarose; Endothelial sprouting; Fibrinogen; Hydroxyapatite; Microbeads.
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