Chongqing Key Laboratory of Nano/Micro Composite Materials and Devices, School of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering, Chongqing University of Science and Technology, Chongqing 401331, PR China. Electronic address: [Email]
The regeneration of load-bearing soft tissues has long driven the research and development of bioactive hydrogels. A major challenge facing the application of hydrogels to load-bearing tissues is the development of hydrogels with appropriate biological functionality and biomechanical stability that closely mimic the host tissue. In this paper, we describe a newly synthesized cell-laden interpenetrating polymer network (IPN) hydrogel based on gelatin methacrylate (GelMA) and silk fibroin (SF) that was formed via sequential sonication and photocrosslinking. The experimental results revealed that SF-GelMA IPN hydrogels exhibited high swelling ratios, excellent mechanical properties, resistance to enzymatic degradation by collagenase, and porous internal microstructures. Moreover, these properties could be tailored by changing the prepolymer components. MC3T3-E1 pre-osteoblasts attached to and subsequently proliferated on the IPN hydrogels, as demonstrated by fluorescein diacetate/propidium iodide (FDA/PI) staining and Cell Counting Kit-8 (CCK-8) analysis. In addition, the encapsulation of MC3T3-E1 pre-osteoblasts and a subsequent cell viability assay demonstrated that the entire IPN formation process was compatible with cells and that the growth of encapsulated cells could be tuned by adjusting the GelMA concentration, underlining their versatility for various load-bearing soft tissue engineering. Overall, this study introduces a class of mechanically robust and tunable cell-laden IPN hydrogels which have great potential as load-bearing soft tissue engineering scaffold.