Alginate hydrogels are widely used for cell encapsulation and transplantation, and they are frequently surface reinforced with secondary polymers to enhance their mechanical rigidity and stability. We hypothesized that the molecular weight (MW) of the polymer utilized to reinforce alginate would be an important factor in their stability, particularly when the gel network was homogeneously reinforced with the polymer. This hypothesis was investigated with alginate hydrogels cross-linked with Ca2+, and reinforced throughout the bulk of the gel with poly(ethyleneimine) (PEI) having different MWs. Interactions between the two polymers became significant following gelation, leading to higher elastic moduli (E) than gels with no PEI. The decrease in E of gels incubated in isotonic salt solutions over time, utilized as an indication of gel break down, was ameliorated with an increase in the MW of the PEI. In addition, the dependencies of the moduli and viscoelasticity on the temperature also became smaller with the use of high MW PEI. This is likely due to the limited mobility of high MW PEI, leading to a higher energy for dissociation. The stable interactions between the alginate and PEI prevented alterations of the pore structure in the gels, and slowed the deterioration of gel properties even under continuous agitation in a bioreactor. The results of this study will likely be useful in designing alginate encapsulation strategies for various applications.
*Department of Biologic & Materials Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Publication date: January 1, 2003
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