Reengineering functional vascular networks in vitro remains an integral part in tissue engineering, since the incorporation of non-perfused tissues results in restricted nutrient supply and limited waste removal. Microfluidic devices are routinely used to mimic both physiological and pathological vascular microenvironments. Current procedures either involve the investigation of growth factor gradients and interstitial flow on endothelial cell sprouting alone or on the heterotypic cell-cell interactions between endothelial and mural cells. However, limited research has been conducted on the influence of flow on co-cultures of these cells. Here, we exploited the ability of microfluidics to create and monitor spatiotemporal gradients to investigate the influence of growth factor supply and elution on vascularization using static as well as indirect and direct flow setups. Co-cultures of human adipose-derived stem/stromal cells and human umbilical vein endothelial cells embedded in fibrin hydrogels were found to be severely affected by diffusion limited growth factor gradients as well as by elution of reciprocal signaling molecules during both static and flow conditions. Static cultures formed pre-vascular networks up to a depth of 4 mm into the construct with subsequent decline due to diffusion limitation. In contrast, indirect flow conditions enhanced endothelial cell sprouting but failed to form vascular networks. Additionally, complete inhibition of pre-vascular network formation was observable for direct application of flow through the hydrogel with decline of endothelial cell viability after seven days. Using finite volume CFD simulations of different sized molecules vital for pre-vascular network formation into and out of the hydrogel constructs, we found that interstitial flow enhances growth factor supply to the cells in the bulk of the chamber but elutes cellular secretome, resulting in truncated, premature vascularization.

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