Cartilage damage typically starts at its surface, either due to wear or trauma. Treatment of these superficial defects is important in preventing degradation and osteoarthritis. Biomaterials currently used for deep cartilage defects lack appropriate properties for this application. Therefore, we investigated photo-crosslinked gelatin methacryloyl (gelMA) as a candidate for treatment of surface defects. It allows for liquid application, filling of surface defects and forming a protective layer after UV-crosslinking, thereby keeping therapeutic cells in place. gelMA and photo-initiator lithium phenyl-2,4,6-trimethyl-benzoylphosphinate (Li-TPO) concentration were optimized for application as a carrier to create a favorable environment for human articular chondrocytes (hAC). Primary hAC were used in passages 3 and 5, encapsulated into two different gelMA concentrations (7.5 wt% (soft) and 10 wt% (stiff)) and cultivated for 3 weeks with TGF-β3 (0, 1 and 10 ng/mL). Higher TGF-β3 concentrations induced spherical cell morphology independent of gelMA stiffness, while low TGF-β3 concentrations only induced rounded morphology in stiff gelMA. Gene expression did not vary across gel stiffnesses. As a functional model gelMA was loaded with two different cell types (hAC and/or human adipose-derived stem cells [ASC/TERT1]) and applied to human osteochondral osteoarthritic plugs. GelMA attached to the cartilage, smoothened the surface and retained cells in place. Resistance against shear forces was tested using a tribometer, simulating normal human gait and revealing maintained cell viability. In conclusion gelMA is a versatile, biocompatible material with good bonding capabilities to cartilage matrix, allowing sealing and smoothening of superficial cartilage defects while simultaneously delivering therapeutic cells for tissue regeneration.
Keywords: biocompatible materials; cartilage; chondrocytes; gelatin methacryloyl; hydrogel; osteoarthritis; stem cells.
© 2021 The Authors. Journal of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.