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Engineering Large and Geometrically Controlled Vascularized Nerve Tissue in Collagen Hydrogels to Restore Large-sized Volumetric Muscle Loss
Shih-Yen Wei, Po-Yu Chen, Chia-Chang Hsieh, Yu-Shan Chen, Tzu-Hsuan Chen, Yu-Shan Yu, Min-Chun Tsai, Ren-Hao Xie, Guan-Yu Chen, Gung-Chian Yin, Juan M. Melero-Martin, Ying-Chieh Chen*
Developing scalable vascularized and innervated tissue is a critical challenge for the successful clinical application of tissue-engineered constructs. Collagen hydrogels are extensively utilized in cell-mediated vascular network formation because of their naturally excellent biological properties. However, the substantial increase in hydrogel contraction induced by populated cells limits their long-term use. Previous studies attempted to mitigate this issue by concentrating collagen pre-polymer solutions or synthesizing covalently crosslinked collagen hydrogels. However, these methods only partially reduce hydrogel contraction while hindering blood vessel formation within the hydrogels. To address this challenge, we introduced additional support in the form of a supportive spacer to counteract the contraction forces of populated cells and prevent hydrogel contraction. This approach was found to promote cell spreading, resist hydrogel contraction, control hydrogel/tissue geometry, and even facilitate the engineering of functional blood vessels and host nerve growth in just one week. Subsequently, implanting these engineered tissues into muscle defect sites resulted in timely anastomosis with the host vasculature, leading to enhanced myogenesis, increased muscle innervation, and the restoration of injured muscle functionality. Overall, this innovative strategy expands the applicability of collagen hydrogels in fabricating large vascularized nerve tissue constructs for repairing volumetric muscle loss (∼63 %) and restoring muscle function.