Hydrogels have been commonly used over the past decade as cell scaffolds for a variety of purposes ranging from tissue engineering and regenerative medicine to drug screening. They can form and maintain 3D structures, which provide support to cells for culture of different tissues while mimicking the native extracellular environment. A multitude of different hydrogels with varying chemical, mechanical and structural properties exist. These properties not only affect cell attachment, spread and survival in the scaffold, but also biochemical and physiological relevance to the host tissue. Given their importance in the drug discovery process, there is a need for precise characterisation, to aid in both regulatory approvals and clinical use.
Pear Bio is a precision medicine start-up which relies on an accurate characterisation of their novel formulations of hydrogels to ensure appropriate recreation of tumour microenvironments. Their hydrogels enable in vitro drug testing on tumour cells taken from patients and grown in the hydrogel scaffold.
NPL collaborated with Pear Bio to characterise the diverse formulations of their hydrogels. NPL used scanning electron microscopy to provide structural information. These images offered insight into the characteristics of the microstructure which forms the scaffold. The formulations were also mechanically tested using rheology and the measurements provided, such as viscoelastic properties, aided in the assessment of hydrogel production.
The work helped Pear Bio characterise and optimise current hydrogels in their production pipeline, while also providing insights for candidate improvement before further testing and clinical trials. These measurements were crucial in determining the structural and physical properties of a system which aims to revolutionise and personalise cancer treatment. The analysis provided by NPL assisted Pear Bio in its commercialisation pathway by supporting product regulatory approvals.