The interaction of cells with the extracellular matrix or neighboring cells plays a crucial role in many cellular functions, such as motility, differentiation and controlled cell death. Expanding on pioneering studies on defined 2-D model systems, the role of the currently known determinants (geometry, topography, biochemical functionality and mechanical properties) is currently addressed in more relevant 3-D matrices. However, there is a clear lack in currently available approaches to fabricate well defined microenvironments, which are asymmetric or in which these factors can be varied independently. The central objective of ASMIDIAS is the development of a novel route to asymmetric microenvironments for cell-matrix interaction studies. Inspired by molecular self-assembly on the one hand and guided macroscale assembly on the other hand, directed assembly of highly defined microfabricated building blocks will be exploited to this end. In this modular design approach different building blocks position themselves during assembly on pre-structured surfaces to afford enclosed volumes that are restricted by the walls of the blocks. The project relies on two central elements. For the guided assembly, the balance of attractive and repulsive interactions between the building blocks (and its dependence on the object dimensions) and the structured surface shall be controlled by appropriate surface chemistry and suitable guiding structures. To afford the required functionality, new approaches to (i) topographically structure, (ii) biochemically functionalize and pattern selected sides of the microscale building blocks and (iii) to control their surface elastic properties via surface-attached polymers and hydrogels, will be developed.The resulting unique asymmetric environments will facilitate novel insight into cell-matrix interactions, which possess considerable relevance in the areas of tissue engineering, cell (de)differentiation, bacteria-surface interactions and beyond.
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