Date of this Version
Bioengineering & Translational Medicine 2018; 3: 37–48
Keratins extracted from human hair have emerged as a promising biomaterial for various biomedical applications, partly due to their wide availability, low cost, minimal immune response, and the potential to engineer autologous tissue constructs. However, the fabrication of keratin-based scaffolds typically relies on limited crosslinking mechanisms, such as via physical interactions or disulfide bond formation, which are time-consuming and result in relatively poor mechanical strength and stability. Here, we report the preparation of photocrosslinkable keratin-polyethylene glycol (PEG) hydrogels via the thiol-norbornene “click” reaction, which can be formed within one minute upon irradiation of visible light. The resulting keratin-PEG hydrogels showed highly tunable mechanical properties of up to 45 kPa in compressive modulus, and long-term stability in buffer solutions and cell culture media. These keratin-based hydrogels were tested as cell culture substrates in both two-dimensional surface seeding and three-dimensional cell encapsulation, demonstrating excellent cytocompatibility to support the attachment, spreading, and proliferation of fibroblast cells. Moreover, the photocrosslinking mechanism makes keratin-based hydrogel suitable for various microfabrication techniques, such as micropatterning and wet spinning, to fabricate cell-laden tissue constructs with different architectures. We believe that the unique features of this photocrosslinkable human hair keratin hydrogel promise new opportunities for their future biomedical applications.