Inorganic-Organic Hydrogel Scaffolds for Tissue Engineering



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Analogous to the extracellular matrix (ECM) of natural tissues, properties of a tissue engineering scaffold direct cell behavior and thus regenerated tissue properties. These include both physical properties (e.g. morphology and modulus) and chemical properties (e.g. hydrophobicity, hydration and bioactivity). Notably, recent studies suggest that scaffold properties (e.g. modulus) may be as potent as growth factors in terms of directing stem cell fate. Thus, 3D scaffolds possessing specific properties modified for optimal cell regeneration have the potential to regenerate native-like tissues. Photopolymerizable poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEG-DA)-based hydrogels are frequently used as scaffolds for tissue engineering. They are ideal for controlled studies of cell-material interactions due to their poor protein adsorption in the absence of adhesive ligands thereby making them ?biological blank slates?. However, their range of physical and chemical properties is limited. Thus, hydrogel scaffolds which maintain the benefits of PEG-DA but possess a broader set of tunable properties would allow the establishment of predictive relationships between scaffold properties, cell behavior and regenerated tissue properties.
Towards this goal, this work describes a series of unique hybrid inorganic-organic hydrogel scaffolds prepared using different solvents and also in the form of continuous gradients. Properties relevant to tissue regeneration were investigated including: swelling, morphology, modulus, degradation rates, bioactivity, cytocompatibility, and protein adhesion. These scaffolds were based on the incorporation of hydrophobic, bioactive and osteoinductive methacrylated star polydimethylsiloxane (PDMSstar-MA) [?inorganic component?] into hydrophilic PEG-DA [?organic component?]. The following parameters were varied: molecular weight (Mn) of PEG-DA (Mn = 3k & 6k g/mol) and PDMSstar-MA (Mn = 1.8k, 7k, 14k), ratio of PDMSstar-MA to PEG-DA (0:100 to 20:80), total macromer concentration (5 to 20 wt%) and utilizing either water or dichloromethane (DCM) fabrication solvent. The use of DCM produced solvent induced phase separation (SIPS) resulting in scaffolds with macroporous morphologies, enhanced modulus and a more homogenous distribution of the PDMSstar-MA component throughout. These hybrid hydrogel scaffolds were prepared in the form of continuous gradients such that a single scaffold contains spatially varied chemical and physical properties. Thus, cell-material interaction studies may be conducted more rapidly at different ?zones? defined along the gradient. These gradients are also expected to benefit the regeneration of the osteochondral interface, an interfacial tissue that gradually transitions in tissue type. The final aspect of this work was focused on enhancing the osteogenic potential of PDMS via functionalization with amine and phosphonate. Both amine and phosphonate moieties have demonstrated bioactivity. Thus, it was expected that these properties will be enhanced for amine and phosphonate functionalized PDMS. The subsequent incorporation of these PDMS-based macromers into the previously described PEG-DA scaffold system is expected to be valuable for osteochondral tissue regeneration.