Recombinant elastin analogues as cell-adhesive matrices for vascular tissue engineering
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Biomimetic materials that recapitulate the complex mechanical and biochemical cues in load-bearing tissues are of significant interest in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering applications. Several investigators have endeavored to not only emulate the mechanical properties of the vasculature, but to also mimic the biologic responsiveness of the blood vessel in creating vascular substitutes. Previous studies in our lab generated the elastin-like protein polymer LysB10, which was designed with the capability of physical and chemical crosslinks, and was shown to display a range of elastomeric properties that more closely matched those of the native artery. While extensive validation of the mechanical properties of elastin-mimetic polymers has demonstrated their functionality in a number of tissue engineering applications, limited cell growth on the surfaces of the polymers has motivated further optimization for biological interaction. Recent biologically-inspired surface strategies have focused on functionalizing material surfaces with extracellular matrix molecules and bioactive motifs in order to encourage integrin-mediated cellular responses that trigger precise intracellular signaling processes, while limiting nonspecific biomaterial interactions. Consequently, this dissertation addresses three approaches to modulating cellular behavior on elastin-mimetic analogs with the goal of promoting vascular wall healing and tissue regeneration: genetic engineering of elastin-like protein polymers (ELPs) with cell-binding domains, biofunctionalization of elastin-like protein polymers via chemoselective ligation of bioactive ligands, and incorporation of matrix protein fibronectin for engineering of cell-seeded multilamellar collagen-reinforced elastin-like constructs. The synthesis of recombinant elastin-like protein polymers that integrate biologic functions of the extracellular matrix provides a novel design strategy for generating clinically durable vascular substitutes. Ultimately, the synthesis of model protein networks provides new insights into the relationship between molecular architecture, biomimetic ligand presentation, and associated cellular responses at the cell-material interface. Understanding how each of these design parameters affects cell response will contribute significantly to the rational engineering of bioactive materials. Potential applications for polymer blends with enhanced mechanical and biological properties include surface coatings on vascular grafts and stents, as well as composite materials for tissue engineered scaffolds and vascular substitutes.