One of the stumbling blocks in the formation of a thermoresponsive cell-hydrogel hybrid (TCH) is the efficient incorporation of cells in thermoresponsive hydrogels (TH) using traditional top-down (i.e., cells penetrate in the pre-set gels from top surface) approach. This approach is slow and tedious because the hydrogel needs to soak in the cells culture for a long time to allow cells to penetrate from the gel surface in to the bulk of the gel. In addition, cell incorporation into TH is difficult because elevated dissolution temperatures of gelators are detrimental to cell viability, whereas the highly viscous gel state that formed at ambient temperatures retards the penetration of cells. We propose a bottom-up approach (i.e., cells mixed prior to gel setting) using a novel two-step protocol. The first step is the rapid cooling of the agarose solution from its dissolution temperature (98°C) to 37°C and equilibrating for 3–4 min. The second step is the mixing of fibroblasts with the agarose solution and natural cooling to the room temperature to form the TCH. With this novel protocol, 90% of fibroblasts are found to be trapped in the cell-gel hybrid.
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