Biopolymers have become attractive materials for a plethora of applications in the biomedical field due to their specific characteristics of biocompatibility, biodegradability, non-toxicity, and functionality.
The Polymer Chemistry and Biomaterials Research Group (PBM) of Ghent University plays a pioneering role in the field of novel biomaterials, as they are inventor (1999) of the worldwide, widely used and commercialized gelatin methacryloyl (GelMA).
Over the recent decades gelatin has proven to be very suitable as an extracellular matrix mimic for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications. However, gelatin is prone to dissolution at physiological temperatures or typical cell culture conditions. In order to form stable hydrogels (>30°C), chemical modification is required, introducing (photo-) crosslinkable functionalities. These modifications allow to tune the material properties of gelatin, making it suitable for a wide range of biomedical applications including biofabrication techniques.
A novel platform technology (CURADUO®-technology) of bifunctional biopolymers with two different chemical functionalities/handles was developed: A first functionality (typically (meth)acrylates/(meth)acrylamides) enables crosslinking via photopolymerization while a second functionality is susceptible to thiol-ene cross-linking (norbornene). In addition, the norbornene functionalities may serve a tool for selective coupling of thiolated 'bioactive' entities such as cell-interactive peptides or growth factors.
Unique properties of our proprietary CURADUO®- technology:
• Natural polymer-based (e.g. gelatin-based): high cell interactivity & biodegradable
• Higher reactivity than conventional Gel-MA
• Photo-crosslinking occurs 33% faster: higher resolution
• Higher versatility: double set of chemical handles
• Easy incorporation of drugs, peptides, growth factors, etc.
• High tunability of degradation profiles
• High tunability of mechanical properties
This platform of modified photo-crosslinkable gelatins is particularly suited for the fabrication of tunable 3D cell encapsulating hydrogels using additive manufacturing techniques/3D-printing. Currently, PBM is optimizing gelatin-based polymers for a number of tissue engineering applications, including high resolution in vitro models and organ-on-chip for drug screening (cornea-on-chip, liver-on-chip, vessel-on-chip), and injectable hydrogels with encapsulated adipocytes for breast reconstruction.