Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Chemical Engineering

Major Professor

Nathan D. Gallant

Co-Major Professor

Thomas J. Koob


biomaterials, cell adhesion strength, cell morphology, di-catechol, fibroblasts


Tendons, essential tissues that connect muscles to bones, are susceptible to rupture/degeneration due to their continuous use for enabling movement. Often surgical intervention is required to repair the tendon; relieving the pain and fixing the limited mobility that occurs from the damage. Unfortunately, post-surgery immobilization techniques required to restore tendon properties frequently lead to scar formation and reduced tendon range of motion. Our ultimate goal is to create an optimal tendon prosthetic that can stabilize the damaged muscle-bone connection and then be remodeled by resident cells from the surrounding tissues over time to ensure long-term function. To achieve this, we must first understand how cells respond to and interact with candidate replacement materials.

The most abundant extracellular matrix (ECM) protein found in the body, collagen, is chosen as the replacement material because it makes up the majority of tendon dry mass and it can be remodeled by cell-based homeostatic processes. Previous studies found that Di-catechol nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) cross-linked fibers have greater mechanical strength than native tendons; and for this reason this biomaterial could be used for tendon replacement.

This work focuses on investigating the behavior of fibroblasts on NDGA cross-linked and uncross-linked collagen samples to determine if cross-linking disrupts the cell binding sites affecting cell spreading, attachment, and migration. The in-vitro platform was designed by plasma treating 25 mm diameter cover slips that were exposed to 3-aminopropyl-trimetoxysilane/toluene and glutaraldehyde/ethanol solutions. The collagen solution was then dispensed onto the glutaraldehyde-coated cover slip and incubated for fibrillar collagen matrix formation. The collagen matrices were submerged in NDGA cross-linking solution for 24 hours to ensure the surface was completely cross-linked. Collagen films were made by allowing the uncross-linked gels to dry overnight before and after NDGA treatment, resulting in a more compacted structure.

A spinning disk device was employed to quantify the ability of cells to remain attached to the collagen samples when exposed to hydrodynamic forces. To avoid any cell-cell interaction and focus on cell-surface interactions, 50-100 cells/mm2 were seeded carefully on each sample. Temporal studies demonstrated that cell adhesion strength and spreading area reached steady-state by 4 hr. Adhesion and spreading studies along with migration experiments demonstrated that NDGA treatment affects cellular behavior on films, partially reducing adhesion strength, migration, and spreading area. However, on the cross-linked gels which are less dense, the only change in cell behavior observed was in migration speed.

We hypothesize that these differences are due to the collapsing of the collagen films. This compaction suggests a less open organization and could be allowing the collagen fibers to form more inter-chain bonds as well as bonds with the small NDGA cross-linker; while NDGA treatment of the fully hydrated gels may rely more on NDGA polymerization to span the greater distance between collagen fibrils. From these results, we can determine that the chemical/physical masking of the adhesion sites by NDGA on collagen films affects cellular behavior more than the masking that occurs in the cross-linked gels. Although this study shows an effect in cell behavior on the cross-linked films, it also demonstrates that cells can adhere and migrate to this NDGA biomaterial supporting the idea that this biomaterial can be utilized for tendon replacement.