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Hybrid alginate hydrogels for bone regeneration

Bone injuries beyond a certain limit cannot self-heal and require medical assistance to stimulate repair and recovery. There is a need for a minimally invasive biomaterial that can stimulate healing and self-biodegrade after recovery.
Hybrid alginate hydrogels for bone regeneration
The EU-funded PEPTIDE OSTEOGEL project was initiated to address this need by developing a 3D cell-free alginate hydrogel with desired bioactivity and mechanical properties. The end product should stimulate bone regeneration in the body without toxic side-effects.

Project members successfully achieved their targets. Researchers began with the design of the base hydrogel. A peptide sequence was synthesised to self-assemble into the beta-sheet structure commonly seen in biological proteins and then functionalised to improve cell adhesion. Results were validated using electron microscopy and spectroscopy.

To optimise mechanical properties, different gel compositions with varying stiffness and calcium levels were tested on human stem cells to assess viability and efficacy. Bioactivity was optimised by testing the effect of altered distances between specific peptide sequences by modifying the amino acids in the peptide.

A major problem limiting the clinical application of self-assembled peptide hydrogels is their brittleness, even under low strains. Scientists successfully strengthened their beta-sheet hydrogels by cross-linking biopolymers with the self-assembling peptide sequences. Moreover, these hybrid hydrogels have the capability to spontaneously biodegrade after stimulating bone repair.

The alginate hydrogel can be further optimised by increasing bioactivity and modifying mechanical properties. Project outcomes have led to the development of a promising hydrogel with important implications in bone regenerative research and medicine. Research teams can now concentrate on elucidating covalent and non-covalent cross-linking effects in hydrogels.

Successful outcomes could place the EU ahead in the bone regeneration sector of biomaterials research.

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