Expansion of Ovarian Cancer Stem-like Cells in Poly(ethylene glycol)-Cross-Linked Poly(methyl vinyl ether-alt-maleic acid) and Alginate Double-Network Hydrogels

Naizhen Zhou, Xiaoe Ma, Katrien Bernaerts, Pengfei Ren, Wanjun Hu, Tianzhu Zhang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Web of Science)


A better understanding of cancer stem cells (CSCs) is essential for research on cancer therapy and drug resistance. Currently, increasingly more investigations are focused on obtaining CSCs to study the mechanism of their enhanced malignancy. In this work, three kinds of double-network hydrogels (PEMM/alginate), consisting of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) covalently crosslinked poly(methyl vinyl ether-alt-maleic acid) (P(MVE-alt-MA)) (network 1, denoted as PEMM) and Sr2+ (or Ca2+, Fe3+) ionically cross-linked alginates (network 2, denoted as SrAlg, CaAlg, or FeAlg), were prepared. The stiffness, morphology, and components of the PEMM/alginate hydrogels were systematically investigated to understand their effects on CSC enrichment. Only the PEMM/FeAlg hydrogels could support the long-term growth, proliferation, and spheroid formation of SK-OV-3 cells. The expression of CSC-related markers was evaluated with the levels of protein and gene at different stages. The cell spheroids cultured in the PEMM/FeAlg hydrogels acquired certain CSC-like properties, thus drug resistance was enhanced, especially in the PEMM-1/FeAlg hydrogel. In vivo tumorigenicity experiments also confirmed the presence of more CSCs in the PEMM-1/FeAlg hydrogel. The results suggest that matrix stiffness, morphology, and cations act synergistically on the regulation of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and Wnt pathways, affecting the invasiveness of ovarian cancer and the conversion of the non-CSCs into CSCs. The PEMM-1/FeAlg hydrogel with lower elastic modulus, a more macroporous morphology, and higher swelling rate can significantly enhance the stemness, malignancy, and tumorigenicity of SK-OV-3 cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3310-3326
Number of pages17
JournalACS Biomaterial Science and Engineering
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • P(MVE-alt-MA)
  • alginate
  • cation
  • double-network hydrogel
  • cancer stem-like cell
  • GEL

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