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Title: Microengineering 3D Collagen Matrices with Tumor‐Mimetic Gradients in Fiber Alignment

Collagen fibers in the 3D tumor microenvironment (TME) exhibit complex alignment landscapes that are critical in directing cell migration through a process called contact guidance. Previous in vitro work studying this phenomenon has focused on quantifying cell responses in uniformly aligned environments. However, the TME also features short‐range gradients in fiber alignment that result from cell‐induced traction forces. Although the influence of graded biophysical taxis cues is well established, cell responses to physiological alignment gradients remain largely unexplored. In this work, fiber alignment gradients in biopsy samples are characterized and recreated using a new microfluidic biofabrication technique to achieve tunable sub‐millimeter to millimeter scale gradients. This study represents the first successful engineering of continuous alignment gradients in soft, natural biomaterials. Migration experiments on graded alignment show that human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) exhibit increased directionality, persistence, and speed compared to uniform and unaligned fiber architectures. Similarly, patterned MDA‐MB‐231 breast cancer cell aggregates exhibit biased migration toward increasing fiber alignment, suggesting a role for alignment gradients as a taxis cue. This user‐friendly approach, requiring no specialized equipment, is anticipated to offer new insights into the biophysical cues that cells interpret as they traverse the extracellular matrix (ECM), with broad applicability in healthy and diseased tissue environments.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Advanced Functional Materials
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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