Why grow soft?
Scientists have long been growing cells in natural and synthetic matrix environments to elicit phenotypes that are not expressed on conventionally rigid substrates. Unfortunately, growing cells either on or within soft matrices can be an expensive, labor intensive, and impractical undertaking.
Softwell overcomes these challenges. It enables you to study cell behaviors in soft environments with unprecedented efficiency. Furthermore, it provides control over matrix stiffness, a concept that has led to discoveries across a variety of cell types:
- Stem cell self-renewal1,2
- Lineage specification3
- Cancer cell phenotype4,5,6
Remarkably, cells have the ability to sense and respond to changes in matrix stiffness. You can watch this happen in real time in our award-winning movie, Mechanosensing.
Soft substrates for stem cells
Tuning matrix stiffness offers a powerful approach to controlling stem cell fate. Simply culturing them on the proper stiffness has been shown to:
Promote self-renewal. Muscle stem cells derived from mice self-renew and sustain their ability to regenerate damaged muscle tissue in vivo when cultured on substrates replicating the elastic modulus of muscle (E=12 kPa).1
Maintain pluripotency. On E=0.6 kPa substrates, mouse embryonic stem cells generate homogenous undifferentiated colonies in the absence of exogenous LIF.2
Direct lineage specification. Human adult mesenchymal stem cells are directed towards neurogenic, myogenic, and osteogenic lineages on E=1,11, and 34 kPa substrates, respectively.3
Just like the body’s tissues, Softwell is soft and deformable. These physical cues are entirely missed on a rigid Petri dish.