To prepare spherical polymer hydrogels, we used a flow-focusing microfluidic channel device for mixing aqueous solutions of two water-soluble polymers. Continuous encapsulation of cells in the hydrogels was also examined. The polymers were bioinspired 2-methacryloyloxyethyl phosphorylcholine polymer bearing phenyl boronic acid groups (PMBV) and poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA), which spontaneously form a hydrogel in aqueous medium via specific molecular complexation upon mixing, even when they were in cell culture medium. The microfluidic device was prepared with polydimethylsiloxan, and the surface of the channel was treated with fluoroalkyl compound to prevent sticking of the polymers on the surface. The microfluidic channel process could control the diameter of the spherical hydrogels in the range of 30-90 μm and generated highly monodispersed diameter spherical hydrogels. We found that the polymer distribution in the hydrogel was influenced by the PVA concentration and that the hydrogel could be dissociated by the addition of d-sorbitol to the suspension. The single cells could be encapsulated and remain viable in the hydrogels. The localized distribution of polymers in the hydrogel may provide an environment for modulating cell function. It is concluded that the spontaneous hydrogel formation between PMBV and PVA in the flow-focusing microfluidic channel device is applicable for continuous preparation of a spherical hydrogel-encapsulating living cell.
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