Photodegradable Hydrogels for Cell Encapsulation and Tissue Adhesion

Hydrogels for wound management and tissue gluing applications have to adhere to tissues for a given time scale and then disappear, either by removal from the skin or by slow degradation for applications inside the body. Advanced wound management materials also envision the encapsulation of therapeutic drugs or cells to support the natural healing process. The design of hydrogels that can fulfill all of these properties with minimal chemical complexity, a stringent condition to favor transfer into a real medical device, is challenging. Herein, we present a hydrogel design with a moderate structural complexity that fulfills a number of relevant properties for wound dressing: it can form in situ and encapsulate cells, it can adhere to tissues, and it can be degraded on demand by light exposure under cytocompatible conditions. The hydrogels are based on starPEG macromers terminated with catechol groups as cross-linking units and contain intercalated photocleavable nitrobenzyl triazole groups. Hydrogels are formed under mild conditions (N-(2-hydroxyethyl)piperazine-N′-ethanesulfonic acid (HEPES) buffer with 9–18 mM sodium periodate as the oxidant) and are compatible with encapsulated cells. Upon light irradiation, the cleavage of the nitrobenzyl group mediates depolymerization, which enables the on-demand release of cells and debonding from tissues. The molecular design and obtained properties reported here are interesting for the development of advanced wound dressings and cell therapies and expand the range of functionality of current alternatives.