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Three-dimensional (3D) tissue engineering (TE) is a prospective treatment that can be used to restore or replace damaged musculoskeletal tissues, such as articular cartilage. However, current challenges in TE include identifying materials that are biocompatible and have properties that closely match the mechanical properties and cellular microenvironment of the target tissue. Visualization and analysis of potential 3D porous scaffolds as well as the associated cell growth and proliferation characteristics present additional problems. This is particularly challenging for opaque scaffolds using standard optical imaging techniques. Here, we use graphene foam (GF) as a 3D porous biocompatible substrate, which is scalable, reproducible, and a suitable environment for ATDC5 cell growth and chondrogenic differentiation. ATDC5 cells are cultured, maintained, and stained with a combination of fluorophores and gold nanoparticles to enable correlative microscopic characterization techniques, which elucidate the effect of GF properties on cell behavior in a 3D environment. Most importantly, the staining protocol allows for direct imaging of cell growth and proliferation on opaque scaffolds using X-ray MicroCT, including imaging growth of cells within the hollow GF branches, which is not possible with standard fluorescence and electron microscopy techniques.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.