In order to produce hydrogel cell culture substrates that are fit for the purpose, it is important that the mechanical properties are well understood not only at the point of cell seeding but throughout the culture period. In this study the change in the mechanical properties of three biopolymer hydrogels alginate, low methoxy pectin and gellan gum have been assessed in cell culture conditions. Samples of the gels were prepared encapsulating rat bone marrow stromal cells which were then cultured in osteogenic media. Acellular samples were also prepared and incubated in standard cell culture media. The rheological properties of the gels were measured over a culture period of 28 days and it was found that the gels degraded at very different rates. The degradation occurred most rapidly in the order alginate > Low methoxy pectin > gellan gum. The ability of each hydrogel to support differentiation of bone marrow stromal cells to osteoblasts was also verified by evidence of mineral deposits in all three of the materials. These results highlight that the mechanical properties of biopolymer hydrogels can vary greatly during in vitro culture, and provide the potential of selecting hydrogel cell culture substrates with mechanical properties that are tissue specific
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