Staff member

María García Díaz

Postdoctoral Researcher
Biomimetic Systems for Cell Engineering
+34 934 020 543
Staff member publications

Fernánez-Majada, V., García-Díaz, María, Torras, N., Raghunath, M., Martínez, Elena, (2020). Editorial: When the shape does matter: Three-dimensional in vitro models of epithelial barriers Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 8, 617361

Vila, A., Torras, N., Castaño, Albert G., García-Díaz, María, Comelles, Jordi, Pérez-Berezo, T., Corregidor, C., Castaño, O., Engel, E., Fernández-Majada, Vanesa, Martínez, Elena, (2020). Hydrogel co-networks of gelatine methacrylate and poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate sustain 3D functional in vitro models of intestinal mucosa Biofabrication 12, 025008

Mounting evidence supports the importance of the intestinal epithelial barrier and its permeability both in physiological and pathological conditions. Conventional in vitro models to evaluate intestinal permeability rely on the formation of tightly packed epithelial monolayers grown on hard substrates. These two-dimensional (2D) models lack the cellular and mechanical components of the non-epithelial compartment of the intestinal barrier, the stroma, which are key contributors to the barrier permeability in vivo. Thus, advanced in vitro models approaching the in vivo tissue composition are fundamental to improve precision in drug absorption predictions, to provide a better understanding of the intestinal biology, and to faithfully represent related diseases. Here, we generate photo-crosslinked gelatine methacrylate (GelMA) - poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) hydrogel co-networks that provide the required mechanical and biochemical features to mimic both the epithelial and stromal compartments of the intestinal mucosa, i.e., they are soft, cell adhesive and cell-loading friendly, and suitable for long-term culturing. We show that fibroblasts can be embedded in the GelMA-PEGDA hydrogels while epithelial cells can grow on top to form a mature epithelial monolayer that exhibits barrier properties which closely mimic those of the intestinal barrier in vivo, as shown by the physiologically relevant transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER) and permeability values. The presence of fibroblasts in the artificial stroma compartment accelerates the formation of the epithelial monolayer and boosts the recovery of the epithelial integrity upon temporary barrier disruption, demonstrating that our system is capable of successfully reproducing the interaction between different cellular compartments. As such, our hydrogel co-networks offer a technologically simple yet sophisticated approach to produce functional three-dimensional (3D) in vitro models of epithelial barriers with epithelial and stromal cells arranged in a spatially relevant manner and near-physiological functionality.

Altay, Gizem, Tosi, Sébastien, García-Díaz, María, Martínez, Elena, (2020). Imaging the cell morphological response to 3D topography and curvature in engineered intestinal tissues Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 8, 294

While conventional cell culture methodologies have relied on flat, two-dimensional cell monolayers, three-dimensional engineered tissues are becoming increasingly popular. Often, engineered tissues can mimic the complex architecture of native tissues, leading to advancements in reproducing physiological functional properties. In particular, engineered intestinal tissues often use hydrogels to mimic villi structures. These finger-like protrusions of a few hundred microns in height have a well-defined topography and curvature. Here, we examined the cell morphological response to these villus-like microstructures at single-cell resolution using a novel embedding method that allows for the histological processing of these delicate hydrogel structures. We demonstrated that by using photopolymerisable poly(ethylene) glycol as an embedding medium, the villus-like microstructures were successfully preserved after sectioning with vibratome or cryotome. Moreover, high-resolution imaging of these sections revealed that cell morphology, nuclei orientation, and the expression of epithelial polarization markers were spatially encoded along the vertical axis of the villus-like microstructures and that this cell morphological response was dramatically affected by the substrate curvature. These findings, which are in good agreement with the data reported for in vivo experiments on the native tissue, are likely to be the origin of more physiologically relevant barrier properties of engineered intestinal tissues when compared with standard monolayer cultures. By showcasing this example, we anticipate that the novel histological embedding procedure will have a positive impact on the study of epithelial cell behavior on three-dimensional substrates in both physiological and pathological situations.

Keywords: Hydrogel scaffold, Confocal microscopy, Substrate curvature, Cell morphology, Cell orientation, Histological section, Small intestine, Villus

Castaño, Albert G., García-Díaz, María, Torras, Núria, Altay, Gizem, Comelles, Jordi, Martínez, Elena, (2019). Dynamic photopolymerization produces complex microstructures on hydrogels in a moldless approach to generate a 3D intestinal tissue model Biofabrication 11, (2), 025007

Epithelial tissues contain three-dimensional (3D) complex microtopographies that are essential for proper performance. These microstructures provide cells with the physicochemical cues needed to guide their self-organization into functional tissue structures. However, most in vitro models do not implement these 3D architectural features. The main problem is the availability of simple fabrication techniques that can reproduce the complex geometries found in native tissues on the soft polymeric materials required as cell culture substrates. In this study reaction-diffusion mediated photolithography is used to fabricate 3D microstructures with complex geometries on poly(ethylene glycol)-based hydrogels in a single step and moldless approach. By controlling fabrication parameters such as the oxygen diffusion/depletion timescales, the distance to the light source and the exposure dose, the dimensions and geometry of the microstructures can be well-defined. In addition, copolymerization of poly(ethylene glycol) with acrylic acid improves control of the dynamic reaction-diffusion processes that govern the free-radical polymerization of highly-diluted polymeric solutions. Moreover, acrylic acid allows adjusting the density of cell adhesive ligands while preserving the mechanical properties of the hydrogels. The method proposed is a simple, single-step, and cost-effective strategy for producing models of intestinal epithelium that can be easily integrated into standard cell culture platforms.

García-Díaz, María, Birch, Ditlev, Wan, Feng, Mørck Nielsen, Hanne, (2018). The role of mucus as an invisible cloak to transepithelial drug delivery by nanoparticles Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews 124, 107-124

Mucosal administration of drugs and drug delivery systems has gained increasing interest. However, nanoparticles intended to protect and deliver drugs to epithelial surfaces require transport through the surface-lining mucus. Translation from bench to bedside is particularly challenging for mucosal administration since a variety of parameters will influence the specific barrier properties of the mucus including the luminal fluids, the microbiota, the mucus composition and clearance rate, and the condition of the underlying epithelia. Besides, after administration, nanoparticles interact with the mucosal components, forming a biomolecular corona that modulates their behavior and fate after mucosal administration. These interactions are greatly influenced by the nanoparticle properties, and therefore different designs and surface-engineering strategies have been proposed. Overall, it is essential to evaluate these biomolecule-nanoparticle interactions by complementary techniques using complex and relevant mucus barrier matrices.

Keywords: Nanoparticle formulation strategies, Corona formation, Digestive tract, Respiratory tract, Luminal content, Methodologies, Analysis

Hortigüela, Verónica, Larrañaga, Enara, Cutrale, Francesco, Seriola', Anna, García-Díaz, María, Lagunas, Anna, Andilla, Jordi, Loza-Alvarez, Pablo, Samitier, Josep, Ojosnegros', Samuel, Martinez, Elena, (2018). Nanopatterns of surface-bound ephrinB1 produce multivalent ligand-receptor interactions that tune EphB2 receptor clustering Nano Letters 18, (1), 629-637

Here we present a nanostructured surface able to produce multivalent interactions between surface-bound ephrinB1 ligands and membrane EphB2 receptors. We created ephrinB1 nanopatterns of regular size (<30 nm in diameter) by using self-assembled diblock copolymers. Next, we used a statistically enhanced version of the Number and Brightness technique, which can discriminate - with molecular sensitivity - the oligomeric states of diffusive species to quantitatively track the EphB2 receptor oligomerization process in real time. The results indicate that a stimulation using randomly distributed surface-bound ligands was not sufficient to fully induce receptor aggregation. Conversely, when nanopatterned onto our substrates, the ligands effectively induced a strong receptor oligomerization. This presentation of ligands improved the clustering efficiency of conventional ligand delivery systems, as it required a 9-fold lower ligand surface coverage and included faster receptor clustering kinetics compared to traditional crosslinked ligands. In conclusion, nanostructured diblock copolymers constitute a novel strategy to induce multivalent ligand-receptor interactions leading to a stronger, faster, and more efficient receptor activation, thus providing a useful strategy to precisely tune and potentiate receptor responses. The efficiency of these materials at inducing cell responses can benefit applications such as the design of new bioactive materials and drug-delivery systems.

Torras, N., García-Díaz, M., Fernández-Majada, V., Martínez, Elena, (2018). Mimicking epithelial tissues in three-dimensional cell culture models Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 6, Article 197

Epithelial tissues are composed of layers of tightly connected cells shaped into complex three-dimensional (3D) structures such as cysts, tubules, or invaginations. These complex 3D structures are important for organ-specific functions and often create biochemical gradients that guide cell positioning and compartmentalization within the organ. One of the main functions of epithelia is to act as physical barriers that protect the underlying tissues from external insults. In vitro, epithelial barriers are usually mimicked by oversimplified models based on cell lines grown as monolayers on flat surfaces. While useful to answer certain questions, these models cannot fully capture the in vivo organ physiology and often yield poor predictions. In order to progress further in basic and translational research, disease modeling, drug discovery, and regenerative medicine, it is essential to advance the development of new in vitro predictive models of epithelial tissues that are capable of representing the in vivo-like structures and organ functionality more accurately. Here, we review current strategies for obtaining biomimetic systems in the form of advanced in vitro models that allow for more reliable and safer preclinical tests. The current state of the art and potential applications of self-organized cell-based systems, organ-on-a-chip devices that incorporate sensors and monitoring capabilities, as well as microfabrication techniques including bioprinting and photolithography, are discussed. These techniques could be combined to help provide highly predictive drug tests for patient-specific conditions in the near future.

Keywords: 3D cell culture models, Biofabrication, Disease modeling, Drug screening, Epithelial barriers, Microengineered tissues, Organ-on-a-chip, Organoids