Covalent Grafting of Functionalized MEW Fibers to Silk Fibroin Hydrogels to Obtain Reinforced Tissue Engineered Constructs

Martina Viola, Madison J Ainsworth, Marko Mihajlovic, Gerardo Cedillo-Servin, Mies J van Steenbergen, Mattie van Rijen, Mylène de Ruijter, Miguel Castilho, Jos Malda, Tina Vermonden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Hydrogels are ideal materials to encapsulate cells, making them suitable for applications in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. However, they generally do not possess adequate mechanical strength to functionally replace human tissues, and therefore they often need to be combined with reinforcing structures. While the interaction at the interface between the hydrogel and reinforcing structure is imperative for mechanical function and subsequent biological performance, this interaction is often overlooked. Melt electrowriting enables the production of reinforcing microscale fibers that can be effectively integrated with hydrogels. Yet, studies on the interaction between these micrometer scale fibers and hydrogels are limited. Here, we explored the influence of covalent interfacial interactions between reinforcing structures and silk fibroin methacryloyl hydrogels (silkMA) on the mechanical properties of the construct and cartilage-specific matrix production in vitro. For this, melt electrowritten fibers of a thermoplastic polymer blend (poly(hydroxymethylglycolide- co-ε-caprolactone):poly(ε-caprolactone) (pHMGCL:PCL)) were compared to those of the respective methacrylated polymer blend pMHMGCL:PCL as reinforcing structures. Photopolymerization of the methacrylate groups, present in both silkMA and pMHMGCL, was used to generate hybrid materials. Covalent bonding between the pMHMGCL:PCL blend and silkMA hydrogels resulted in an elastic response to the application of torque. In addition, an improved resistance was observed to compression (∼3-fold) and traction (∼40-55%) by the scaffolds with covalent links at the interface compared to those without these interactions. Biologically, both types of scaffolds (pHMGCL:PCL and pMHMGCL:PCL) showed similar levels of viability and metabolic activity, also compared to frequently used PCL. Moreover, articular cartilage progenitor cells embedded within the reinforced silkMA hydrogel were able to form a cartilage-like matrix after 28 days of in vitro culture. This study shows that hybrid cartilage constructs can be engineered with tunable mechanical properties by grafting silkMA hydrogels covalently to pMHMGCL:PCL blend microfibers at the interface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1563-1577
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Early online date7 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2024


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