Hydrogels are an important class of biomaterials, but are inherently weak; to overcome this challenge, we report an in situ manufacturing technique to fabricate mechanically robust, fiber-reinforced poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) hydrogels. Here, a covalent PEO cross-linking scheme was implemented to derive poly(ϵ-caprolactone) (PCL) fiber reinforced PEO hydrogels from multilayer coextruded PEO/PCL matrix/fiber composites. By varying PCL fiber loading between ∼0.1 vol % and ∼7.8 vol %, hydrogel stiffness was tailored from 0.69 ± 0.04 MPa to 1.94 ± 0.21 MPa. The influence of PCL chain orientation and enhanced mechanics via uniaxial drawing of PCL/PEO composites revealed a further 225% increase in hydrogel stiffness. To further highlight the robust nature of this manufacturing process, we also derived rigid poly(l-lactic acid) (PLLA) fiber-reinforced PEO hydrogels with a stiffness of 8.71 ± 0.21 MPa. Fibroblast cells were injected into the hydrogel volume, which displayed excellent ingrowth, adhesion, and proliferation throughout the fiber reinforced hydrogels. Finally, the range of mechanical properties obtained with fiber-reinforced hydrogels directed differentiation pathways of MC3T3-E1 cells into osteoblasts. This innovative manufacturing approach to achieve randomly aligned, well-distributed, micrometer-scale fibers within a hydrogel matrix with tunable mechanical properties represents a significant avenue of pursuit not only for load-bearing hydrogel applications, but also targeted cellular differentiation.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors thank Profs. Eric Baer and Gary Wnek for their helpful discussions on gel mechanics. The authors also acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Layered Polymeric Systems (CLiPS) under Grant DMR-0423914 and NSF funding under Grant CMMI-1335276.
© 2017 American Chemical Society.
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- cell scaffolds
- tissue engineering