Biodegradable HEMA-based hydrogels with enhanced mechanical properties
Hydrogels are widely used in the biomedical field. Their main purposes are either to deliver biological active agents or to temporarily fill a defect until they degrade and are followed by new host tissue formation. However for this latter application, biodegradable hydrogels are usually not capable to sustain any significant load. The development of biodegradable hydrogels presenting load-bearing capabilities would open new possibilities to utilize this class of material in the biomedical field. In this work, an original formulation of biodegradable photo-crosslinked hydrogels based on hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA) is presented. The hydrogels consist of short-length poly(2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) (PHEMA) chains in a star shape structure, obtained by introducing a tetra-functional chain transfer agent in the backbone of the hydrogels. They are cross-linked with a biodegradable N,O-dimethacryloyl hydroxylamine (DMHA) molecule sensitive to hydrolytic cleavage. We characterized the degradation properties of these hydrogels submitted to mechanical loadings. We showed that the developed hydrogels undergo long-term degradation and specially meet the two essential requirements of a biodegradable hydrogel suitable for load bearing applications: enhanced mechanical properties and low molecular weight degradation products.