469101 Engineering an Electroactive Hydrogel for Tissue Engineering Applications

Tuesday, November 15, 2016: 8:48 AM
Golden Gate 3 (Hilton San Francisco Union Square)
Andrew Spencer, Northeastern University, Boston, MA

Engineering an Electroactive Hydrogel for Tissue Engineering Applications

Andrew Spencer1 Hicham Fenniri1*, Nasim Annabi1,2,3**

1 Department of Chemical Engineering, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, 02115-5000, USA

2Biomaterials Innovation Research Center, Brigham and WomenÕs Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.

3Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA.



Hydrogels are hydrophilic three dimensional (3D) polymeric networks with physical, chemical and biological properties that can be designed to closely mimic the native extracellular matrix (ECM) of mammalian tissues. Because of their biomimetic properties, hydrogels are often used in various tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications. For tissues whose function is highly dependent on electrochemical signaling between cells and that are responsive to an electric field, such as the heart, it is desired that the hydrogels are electroactive [1].  However, most hydrogels are inherently non-conductive. Numerous approaches have been taken to improve the conductivity of hydrogels using materials that have limited biocompatibility and biodegradability.

There exists a library of conducting organic polymers that offer an attractive alternative to other conductive materials for biomedical applications, due to their ease of processing, versatility, and enhanced biocompatibility both in vitro and in vivo [2]. Unlike many other conductive materials, such as carbon nanotubes, these conductive polymers can be easily dispersed in aqueous solutions Ð a requirement for biological applications. In addition to their practical advantages, they actuate upon electrical stimulation [3]. This enables simultaneous electrical and mechanical stimulation of cells, which may help to maintain their phenotype and facilitate their growth.

By dispersing a well-established conducting polymer complex, poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene):polystyrene sulfonate (PEDOT:PSS), at various concentrations within a photo-crosslinkable naturally derived polymer, gelatin methacrylate (GelMA), we have synthesized an electroactive and flexible hydrogel that can be used for 3D cell encapsulation. The engineered 3D conductive hydrogel with tunable mechanical and electrical properties can be used for various tissue engineering applications, including muscle tissue regeneration and heart repair.


Hydrogel formation and characterization: Gelatin methacrylate (GelMA) was synthesized according to a previously reported protocol [4]. PEDOT:PSS was obtained from Heraeus (Germany) in the form of an aqueous dispersion called CleviosTM PH 1000 (PEDOT:PSS ratio 1:2.5). The concentration of the dispersion in GelMA prepolymer after filtering through a 0.22 mm filter was determined to be 0.95 wt% after drying and weighing. Solutions of 7% GelMA at 0%, 0.1% and 0.3% PEDOT:PSS with 0.5% photoinitiator (Irgacure 2959) were prepared for all experiments. The hydrogels (thickness: 2 mm, diameter: 4 mm) were formed by exposing the GelMA/PEDOT:PSS solutions to UV light at 6.9 mW/cm2 for 360 s. Then, the compressive properties of the engineered hydrogels were tested using an Instron 5944 mechanical tester. Compressive modulus was taken as the slope of the linear portion of the stress/strain curves at 0-5% strain.

3D Cell Encapsulation: C2C12 myoblast cells (ATCC) were cultured in complete media (DMEM + 10% FBS + 1% penicillin/streptomycin) in a humidified 5% CO2 incubator prior to use. Cell were trypsinized and resuspended in solutions of GelMA/PEDOT:PSS precursor at concentration of 106 cells/mL of prepolymer solution. 7 mL of the mixture was then sandwiched between a glass slide and a petri dish with a 150 mm spacer and exposed to UV light for up to 30 s to crosslink to form a cell-laden hydrogel. Live/Dead, Actin/DAPI and PrestoBlue assays were performed on days 1, 3 and 5 to evaluate the cell viability, spreading, and proliferation in 3D hydrogels with varying mechanical and electrical properties.


Mechanical testing demonstrated that the compressive modulus increases with increasing concentration of PEDOT:PSS. This might be due the interaction between the negatively charged PSS and the positively charged arginine or lysine groups in GelMA, adding physical crosslinking to the composite hydrogel in addition to chemical bonds generated during photopolymerization. The in vitro data also showed that incorporation of PEDOT:PSS into the hydrogels did not affect the metabolic activity of the cells, as confirmed by PrestoBlue cell viability assay. Live/Dead assay also confirmed that the incorporation of PEDOT:PSS into GelMA did not affect cell viability. In addition, the cells start spreading inside the engineered hydrogels at day 3 of culture. These results suggest that the incorporation of conductive polymer complex PEDOT:PSS created a biocompatible conductive hydrogel that will enable uniform electrical stimulation of electrically responsive tissues.


            An electroactive hydrogel was developed via the incorporation of a conducting polymer complex into a naturally derived hydrogel. Compressive modulus was improved via the addition of PEDOT:PSS into the hydrogel. Cell viability, metabolic activity, and spreading were not affected by the incorporation of the conductive material into the hydrogel network as shown by PrestoBlue, Live/Dead and Actin/DAPI assays. These results suggest that the engineered composite hydrogel is suitable for various tissue engineering applications where the tissues are electrically responsive.


The authors would like to thank Northeastern University for funding this research.


[1] N. Annabi, A. Tamayol, J. Uquillas, M. Akbari, L. Bertassoni, C. Cha, G. Camci_Unal, M. Dokmeci, N. Peppas, A. Khademhosseini, Adv Mater 2014.

[2] R. Balint, N. Cassidy, S. Cartmell, Acta Biomaterialia 2014

[3] M. R. Abidian, D. _H. Kim, D. C. Martin, Adv Mater 2006

[4] W. Nichol, S. T. Koshy, H. Bae, C. M. Hwang, S. Yamanlar, A. Khademhosseini, Biomaterials 2010

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See more of this Session: Biomaterial Scaffolds for Tissue Engineering I
See more of this Group/Topical: Materials Engineering and Sciences Division