Controlled strain of 3D hydrogels under live microscopy imaging

Avraham Kolel, Avishy Roitblat Riba, Sari Natan, Oren Tchaicheeyan, Eilom Saias, Ayelet Lesman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


External forces are an important factor in tissue formation, development, and maintenance. The effects of these forces are often studied using specialized in vitro stretching methods. Various available systems use 2D substrate-based stretchers, while the accessibility of 3D techniques to strain soft hydrogels, is more restricted. Here, we describe a method that allows external stretching of soft hydrogels from their circumference, using an elastic silicone strip as the sample carrier. The stretching system utilized in this protocol is constructed from 3D-printed parts and low-cost electronics, making it simple and easy to replicate in other labs. The experimental process begins with polymerizing thick (>100 μm) soft fibrin hydrogels (Elastic Modulus of ~100 Pa) in a cut-out at the center of a silicone strip. Silicone-gel constructs are then attached to the printed-stretching device and placed on the confocal microscope stage. Under live microscopy the stretching device is activated, and the gels are imaged at various stretch magnitudes. Image processing is then used to quantify the resulting gel deformations, demonstrating relatively homogenous strains and fiber alignment throughout the gel’s 3D thickness (Z-axis). Advantages of this method include the ability to strain extremely soft hydrogels in 3D while executing in situ microscopy, and the freedom to manipulate the geometry and size of the sample according to the user’s needs. Additionally, with proper adaptation, this method can be used to stretch other types of hydrogels (e.g., collagen, polyacrylamide or polyethylene glycol) and can allow for analysis of cells and tissue response to external forces under more biomimetic 3D conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere61671
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number166
StatePublished - 2020


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