On-demand retrieval of cells three-dimensionally seeded in injectable thioester-based hydrogels†
Scaffold systems that can easily encapsulate cells and safely retrieve them at the desired time are important for the advancement of cell-based medicine. In this study, we designed and fabricated thioester-based poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogels with injectability and on-demand degradability as new scaffold materials for cells. Hydrogels can be formed in situ within minutes via thioester cross-linking between PEG molecules and can be degraded under mild conditions in response to L-cysteine molecules through thiol exchange occurring at the thioester linkage. Various cell experiments, especially with sucrose, which enables the adjustment of the osmotic pressure around the cells, showed that the damage to the cells during encapsulation and degradation was minimal, indicating the capability of on-demand retrieval of intact cells. This hydrogel system is a versatile tool in the field of cell-based research and applications such as tissue regeneration and regenerative medicine.