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Retention and survival of transplanted cells are major limitations to the efficacy of regenerative medicine, with short-term paracrine signals being the principal mechanism underlying current cell therapies for heart repair. Consequently, even improvements in short-term durability may have a potential impact on cardiac cell grafting. We have developed a multimodal hydrogel-based platform comprised of a poly(ethylene glycol) network cross-linked with bioactive peptides functionalized with Gd(III) in order to monitor the localization and retention of the hydrogel in vivo by magnetic resonance imaging. In this study, we have tailored the material for cardiac applications through the inclusion of a heparin-binding peptide (HBP) sequence in the cross-linker design and formulated the gel to display mechanical properties resembling those of cardiac tissue. Luciferase-expressing cardiac stem cells (CSC-Luc2) encapsulated within these gels maintained their metabolic activity for up to 14 days in vitro. Encapsulation in the HBP hydrogels improved CSC-Luc2 retention in the mouse myocardium and hind limbs at 3 days by 6.5- and 12- fold, respectively. Thus, this novel heparin-binding based, Gd(III)-tagged hydrogel and CSC-Luc2 platform system demonstrates a tailored, in vivo detectable theranostic cell delivery system that can be implemented to monitor and assess the transplanted material and cell retention.

Original publication




Journal article


ACS Cent Sci

Publication Date





338 - 348