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  1. Many biological materials contain fibrous protein networks as their main structural components. Understanding the mechanical properties of such networks is important for creating biomimicking materials for cell and tissue engineering, and for developing novel tools for detecting and diagnosing disease. In this work, we develop continuum models for isotropic, athermal fibrous networks by combining a single-fibre model that describes the axial response of individual fibres, with network models that assemble individual fibre properties into overall network behaviour. In particular, we consider four different network models, including the affine, three-chain, eight-chain, and micro-sphere models, which employ different assumptions about network structure and kinematics. We systematically investigate the ability of these models to describe the mechanical response of athermal collagen and fibrin networks by comparing model predictions with experimental data. We test how each model captures network behaviour under three different loading conditions: uniaxial tension, simple shear, and combined tension and shear. We find that the affine and three-chain models can accurately describe both the axial and shear behaviour, whereas the eight-chain and micro-sphere models fail to capture the shear response, leading to unphysical zero shear moduli at infinitesimal strains. Our study is the first to systematically investigate the applicability of popular network models for describing the macroscopic behaviour of athermal fibrous networks, offering insights for selecting efficient models that can be used for large-scale, finite-element simulations of athermal networks. 
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  2. ABSTRACT Rheology and the study of viscoelastic materials are an integral part of engineering and the study of biophysical systems. Tissue rheology is even used in the study of cancer and other diseases. However, the cost of a rheometer is feasible only for colleges, universities, and research laboratories. Even if a rheometer can be purchased, it is bulky and delicately calibrated, limiting its usefulness to the laboratory itself. The design presented here is less than a tenth of the cost of a professional rheometer. The design is also portable, making it the ideal solution to introduce viscoelasticity to high school students as well as for use in the field for obtaining rheological data. 
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  3. Abstract

    Electrical stimulation (ES) within a conductive scaffold is potentially beneficial in encouraging the differentiation of stem cells toward a neuronal phenotype. To improve stem cell‐based regenerative therapies, it is essential to use electroconductive scaffolds with appropriate stiffnesses to regulate the amount and location of ES delivery. Herein, biodegradable electroconductive substrates with different stiffnesses are fabricated from chitosan‐grafted‐polyaniline (CS‐g‐PANI) copolymers. Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) cultured on soft conductive scaffolds show a morphological change with significant filopodial elongation after electrically stimulated culture along with upregulation of neuronal markers and downregulation of glial markers. Compared to stiff conductive scaffolds and non‐conductive CS scaffolds, soft conductive CS‐g‐PANI scaffolds promote increased expression of microtubule‐associated protein 2 (MAP2) and neurofilament heavy chain (NF‐H) after application of ES. At the same time, there is a decrease in the expression of the glial markers glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and vimentin after ES. Furthermore, the elevation of intracellular calcium [Ca2+] during spontaneous, cell‐generated Ca2+transients further suggests that electric field stimulation of hMSCs cultured on conductive substrates can promote a neural‐like phenotype. The findings suggest that the combination of the soft conductive CS‐g‐PANI substrate and ES is a promising new tool for enhancing neuronal tissue engineering outcomes.

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  4. Sponges are animals that inhabit many aquatic environments while filtering small particles and ejecting metabolic wastes. They are composed of cells in a bulk extracellular matrix, often with an embedded scaffolding of stiff, siliceous spicules. We hypothesize that the mechanical response of this heterogeneous tissue to hydrodynamic flow influences cell proliferation in a manner that generates the body of a sponge. Towards a more complete picture of the emergence of sponge morphology, we dissected a set of species and subjected discs of living tissue to physiological shear and uniaxial deformations on a rheometer. Various species exhibited rheological properties such as anisotropic elasticity, shear softening and compression stiffening, negative normal stress, and non-monotonic dissipation as a function of both shear strain and frequency. Erect sponges possessed aligned, spicule-reinforced fibres which endowed three times greater stiffness axially compared with orthogonally. By contrast, tissue taken from shorter sponges was more isotropic but time-dependent, suggesting higher flow sensitivity in these compared with erect forms. We explore ecological and physiological implications of our results and speculate about flow-induced mechanical signalling in sponge cells. 
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