The extracellular matrix (ECM) represents the framework of tissues and organs and is involved in cell differentiation and function. The study of ECM is challenging and required a combination of identification and imaging techniques to give a valuable scheme of its composition, organization, and finally function. The study of ECM enables to culture cells ex vivo, but cultures are restricted to two-dimensional surfaces, whereas in the meantime, material sciences were developing devices able to bring cell culture in a three-dimensional (3D) environment. This chapter presents basic techniques to investigate extracellular matrices composition and organization. Basic knowledge on ECM composition and organization should inspire material scientists to propose more biologically relevant materials. In a second time, we present strategies available to create ex vivo models of ECM and a series of examples of 3D materials that were engineered to investigate cell adhesion, phenotype, and differentiation in a biologically relevant microenvironment. The production of a gold-standard material is possible for a specific biological question, and it might be developed from an intelligible dialogue between material scientists, that bring engineering strategies, and cell biologists who implement the material design to meet the biological process that has to be investigated ex vivo.
Part of the book: Composition and Function of the Extracellular Matrix in the Human Body