Poly(ethylene glycol)-based hydrogels as cartilage substitutes: Synthesis and mechanical characteristics



Cartilage substitutes are needed to replace cartilage tissue, damaged in accidents or by pathologies (e.g., osteoarthritis). Treatment by total hip replacement has disadvantages, particularly due to immunological reaction to the implant's wear debris. One promising alternative is to replace damaged cartilage with substitutes based on hydrogel-type material, designed to mimic the structure and properties of cartilage. The development of such a substitute must consider a wide spectrum of requirements. In this study, we addressed one aspect of this development namely the preparation and investigation of hydrogels exhibiting the required mechanical characteristics. To this aim, poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogels and amphiphilic interpenetrating polymer networks (IPNs) of PEG with poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) were prepared and characterized for their mechanical and swelling properties. Twenty-seven types of hydrogels were synthesized, differing in their composition: PEG molecular weight, crosslink density, and PMMA volume fraction. The properties measured were water content, compression modulus, strength, fatigue durability, and poroelastic properties (hydraulic permeability and equilibrium modulus). All were investigated as functions of hydrogel's composition. Results show that lower PEG Mw, higher crosslink densities and higher PMMA fraction, all lead to higher modulus and lower water content, and that these properties can be controlled independently by proper choice of ingredients. Introduction of IPN greatly improved the hydrogels' strength. No reduction in the compression modulus resulting from fatigue damage was evident. Poroelastic properties varied nonmonotonously with structural characteristics. Seven types of the hydrogels were found to fit cartilage in their water content, modulus, and poroelastic properties. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Appl Polym Sci, 2009