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Degradable natural polymer hydrogels for articular cartilage tissue engineering


Correspondence to: Jun Fu, Ningbo Institute of Materials Technology and Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zhuangshi Road 519, Zhenhai District, Ningbo, Zhejiang, China 315201. E-mail:


Articular cartilage has poor ability to heal once damaged. Tissue engineering with scaffolds of polymer hydrogels is promising for cartilage regeneration and repair. Polymer hydrogels composed of highly hydrated crosslinked networks mimic the collagen networks of the cartilage extracellular matrix and thus are employed as inserts at cartilage defects not only to temporarily relieve the pain but also to support chondrocyte proliferation and neocartilage regeneration. The biocompatibility, biofunctionality, mechanical properties, and degradation of the polymer hydrogels are the most important parameters for hydrogel-based cartilage tissue engineering. Degradable biopolymers with natural origin have been widely used as biomaterials for tissue engineering because of their outstanding biocompatibility, low immunological response, low cytotoxicity, and excellent capability to promote cell adhesion, proliferation, and regeneration of new tissues. This review covers several important natural proteins (collagen, gelatin, fibroin, and fibrin) and polysaccharides (chitosan, hyaluronan, alginate and agarose) widely used as hydrogels for articular cartilage tissue engineering. The mechanical properties, structures, modification, and structure–performance relationship of these hydrogels are discussed since the chemical structures and physical properties dictate the in vivo performance and applications of polymer hydrogels for articular cartilage regeneration and repair. © 2012 Society of Chemical Industry