Skin wound healing presents a challenging and expensive clinical problem with nearly 20 million wounds requiring intervention leading to an annual cost of more than $8 million. Tissue engineered skin substitutes are valuable not only as a clinical therapy for chronic wounds and severe traumas, but also as in vitro 3D model systems to investigate wound healing and skin pathogenesis. However, these substitutes are limited by a lack of topography at the dermal-epidermal junction (DEJ). In contrast, the native DEJ is characterized by a series of dermal papillae which project upward into the epidermal layer and create physical topographic microniches that support keratinocyte stem cell clustering. In this thesis, we created novel 3D skin model systems to investigate the role of microtopography in regulating keratinocyte function and cell fate using scaffolds containing precisely engineered topographic features. We hypothesized that the microtopography of the DEJ creates distinct keratinocyte microniches that promote epidermal morphogenesis and modulate keratinocyte stem cell clustering which can be harnessed to create a more robust skin substitute that expedites wound closure. Using photolithographic techniques, we created micropatterned DEJ analogs and micropatterned dermal-epidermal regeneration matrices (ÂµDERM) which couple a dermal support matrix to a micropatterned DEJ analog. We found that the incorporation of microtopography into our in vitro skin model resulted in a thicker, more robust epidermal layer. Additionally, we identified three distinct functional keratinocyte niches: the proliferative niche in narrow channels, the synthetic niche in wide channels and the keratinocyte stem cell niche in narrow channels and corner topographies. Ultimately, incorporation of both narrow and wide channels on a single construct allowed us to recreate native keratinocyte stem cell patterning in vitro. These model systems will allow us to investigate the role of cellular microniches in regulating cellular function and epidermal disease pathogenesis as well as to identify topographic cues that enhance the rate of wound healing.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
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Clement, A. L. (2015). Engineering the Keratinocyte Microenvironment: Harnessing Topography to Direct Cellular Function. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.wpi.edu/etd-dissertations/23
microtopography, keratinocyte function, tissue engineered skin, dermal-epidermal junction