Chemical and mechanical characterization of fully degradable double-network hydrogels based on PEG and PAA
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Biodegradable hydrogels have become very promising materials for a number of biomedical applications, including tissue engineering and drug delivery. For optimal tissue engineering design, the mechanical properties of hydrogels should match those of native tissues as closely as possible because these properties are known to affect the behavior and function of cells seeded in the hydrogels. At the same time, high water-contents, large mesh sizes and well-tuned degradation rates are favorable for the controlled release of growth factors and for adequate transport of nutrients through the hydrogel during tissue regeneration. With these factors in mind, the goal of this research was to develop and investigate the behavior of injectable, biodegradable hydrogels with enhanced stiffness properties that persist even at high degrees of swelling. In order to do this, degradable functionalities were incorporated into photo-crosslinkable poly(ethylene glycol) and poly(acrylic acid) hydrogels, and these two components were used to make a series of double-network hydrogels. Synthesis of the precursor macromers, photopolymerization of the hydrogels, and structural parameters of the hydrogels were analyzed. The composition and the molecular weight between crosslinks (Mc) of the hydrogel components were varied, and the degradation, swelling, thermal and mechanical properties of the hydrogels were characterized over various time scales. These properties were compared to corresponding properties of the component single-network hydrogels.