Publication: Relative Stiffness Measurements of Cell-embedded Hydrogels by Shear Rheology in vitro

Thomas R. Cox, Jan 2017

Our new protocol on in vitro shear rheology of cell-embedded hydrogels has just been published in bio-protocol

Cox & Madsen - Bioprotocol

Bio-protocol (ISSN: 2331-8325) is a peer-viewed e-journal established in 2011 by a group of Stanford researchers. Their mission is to make life science research more efficient and reproducible by curating and hosting high quality, open access, life science protocols.

In the life science research community, reproducing someone else’s experiment has never been easy. This is because a life science experiment often contains many details and tricks. Bio-protocol aims to publish detailed life science protocols with a strong emphasis on reproducibility, a critical issue that is challenging the research community today.

Using rheology in cancer

During the progression of diseases such as cancer and fibrosis, the physical properties (stiffness) of tissues change. These changes can have dramatic effects on the cells that live within the tissue. Understanding how tissue stiffness is altered and affects the behaviour of cells is important to developing better treatments for these diseases.

The mechanical properties (stiffness) of  3D matrices can be examined using a technique called shear rheology. Rheology is the study of how materials deform when forces are applied to them. We can therefore use this approach to understand how the stiffness of 3D cancer models changes over time, what cells are responsible for driving these changes, and dissect the importance of these changes during disease progression.


Hydrogel systems composed of purified extracellular matrix (ECM) components (such as collagen, fibrin, Matrigel, and methylcellulose) are a mainstay of cell and molecular biology research. They are used extensively in many applications including tissue regeneration platforms, studying organ development, and pathological disease models such as cancer. Both the biochemical and biomechanical properties influence cellular and tissue compatibility, and these properties are altered in pathological disease progression (Cox and Erler, 2011; Bonnans et al., 2014). The use of cell-embedded hydrogels in disease models such as cancer, allow the interrogation of cell-induced changes in the biomechanics of the microenvironment (Madsen et al., 2015). Here we report a simple method to measure these cell-induced changes in vitro using a controlled strain rotational rheometer.


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Cox TR and Madsen CD. Relative Stiffness Measurements of Cell-embedded Hydrogels by Shear Rheology in vitro.
Bio-protocol 7(1): e2101. (2017) | DOI: 10.21769/BioProtoc.2101