An interpenetrating network composite for a regenerative spinal disc application
Severe degeneration of the intervertebral disc has an immensely debilitating effect on quality of life that has become a serious health and economic burden throughout the world. The disc plays an integral role in biomechanical movement and support within the spine. The emergence of tissue engineering endeavours to restore the structural characteristics and functionality of the native tissue. Hydrogels have been widely investigated as a candidate for regeneration of the gelatinous nucleus pulposus due to its architectural resemblance and fluid retention characteristics. However, hydrogels are often limited due to small compressive stiffness and tear resistance, leading to extrusion complications. Reinforcement of the hydrogel network using polymeric scaffolds may address these issues of inadequate mechanical properties and implant instability. This study investigates the potential of a carrageenan gel-infused polycaprolactone scaffold for nucleus pulposus tissue engineering. Mechanical properties were characterised using viscoelastic and poroelastic frameworks via microindentation. The incorporation of polymeric reinforcement within the gels increased material stiffness to that comparable to the native nucleus pulposus, however permeability was significantly greater than native values. A preliminary cell evaluation culturing NIH 3T3s over 21 days suggested the incorporation of polymeric networks also enhanced cellular proliferation compared to gels alone.