In developmental biology, gradients of bioactive signals direct the formation of structural transitions in tissue that are key to physiological function. Failure to reproduce these native features in an in vitro setting can severely limit the success of bioengineered tissue constructs. In this report, we introduce a facile and rapid platform that uses magnetic field alignment of glycosylated superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles, pre-loaded with growth factors, to pattern biochemical gradients into a range of biomaterial systems. Gradients of bone morphogenetic protein 2 in agarose hydrogels were used to spatially direct the osteogenesis of human mesenchymal stem cells and generate robust osteochondral tissue constructs exhibiting a clear mineral transition from bone to cartilage. Interestingly, the smooth gradients in growth factor concentration gave rise to biologically-relevant, emergent structural features, including a tidemark transition demarcating mineralized and non-mineralized tissue and an osteochondral interface rich in hypertrophic chondrocytes. This platform technology offers great versatility and provides an exciting new opportunity for overcoming a range of interfacial tissue engineering challenges.
- Tissue engineering