This work reports first steps towards the development of artificial neural stem cell microenvironments for the control and assessment of neural stem cell behaviour. Stem cells have been shown to be found in specific, supportive microenvironments (niches) and are believed to play an important role in tissue regeneration mechanisms. These environments are intricate spaces with chemical and biological features. Here we present work towards the development of physically defined microdevices in which neural and neural stem cells can be studied in 3-dimensions. We have approached this challenge by creating bespoke, microstructured polymer environments using both 2-photon polymerisation and soft lithography techniques. Specifically, we have designed and fabricated biodegradable microwell-shaped devices using an in house synthetized polymer (4-arm photocurable poly-lactid acid) on a bespoke 2-photon polymerisation (2PP) set-up. We have studied swelling and degradation of the constructs as well as biocompatibility. Moreover, we have explored the potential of these constructs as artificial neural cell substrates by culturing NG108-15 cells (mouse neuroblastoma; rat glioma hybrid) and human neural progenitor cells on the microstructures. Finally, we have studied the effects of our artificial microenvironments upon neurite length and cell density.
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