Hyaluronic hydrogels developed by Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh researchers may provide scaffolding to enable bone regeneration.

The hydrogels have proven to encourage the growth of preosteoblast cells, which aid the growth and development of bone and could serve as a gene-therapy delivery system.

Physicians can treat patients with damaged bone tissue, such as those who have bone fractures that fail to heal, using demineralized bone matrix—a biological material obtained from cadavers. The bone matrix is rich in growth-factor proteins, which signal bone cells in the area to multiply and form complex bone tissue while other proteins in the matrix regulate the activity of the growth factors.

Demineralized bone matrix is in limited supply, and because it comes from a human donor, there is a risk of transmitting viruses to the recipient. The researchers have been developing synthetic alternatives, creating a flexible hydrogel using biologically active and degradable hyaluronic acid. Hydrogels, which are considered to be the state-of-the-art in tissue design, are made from polymers that swell in water to form a gel-like material. They interact with growth factors much like demineralized bone matrix, providing scaffolding for bone cells to proliferate and form new tissue. The researchers found that, in vitro, the hydrogels promoted cell proliferation, differentiation, and mineralization of pre-osteoblast cells.

Further research by the group has created a hybrid hydrogel that incorporates a nanogel structure, which promotes the differentiation of cells, much like the hyaluronic acid gel, while also releasing nanogels in a controlled and targeted manner.

The hydrogels were created by Newell Washburn, Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, and Jeffrey Hollinger, whose work was funded by the National Tissue Engineering Center, the National Institutes of Health, and a 3M Non-Tenured Faculty grant.

Carnegie Mellon is a private research university.

[Source: Eureka Alert and Carnegie Mellon]