Reinforcing hydrogels with micro-fibre scaffolds obtained by a Melt-Electrospinning Writing (MEW) process has demonstrated great promise for developing tissue engineered (TE) constructs with mechanical properties compatible to native tissues. However, the mechanical performance and reinforcement mechanism of the micro-fibre reinforced hydrogels is not yet fully understood. In this study, FE models, implementing material properties measured experimentally, were used to explore the reinforcement mechanism of fibre-hydrogel composites. First, a continuum FE model based on idealized scaffold geometry was used to capture reinforcement effects related to the suppression of lateral gel expansion by the scaffold, while a second micro-FE model based on micro-CT images of the real construct geometry during compaction captured the effects of load transfer through the scaffold interconnections. Results demonstrate that the reinforcement mechanism at higher scaffold volume fractions was dominated by the load carrying-ability of the fibre scaffold interconnections, which was much higher than expected based on testing scaffolds alone because the hydrogel provides resistance against buckling of the scaffold. We propose that the theoretical understanding presented in this work will assist the design of more effective composite constructs with potential applications in a wide range of TE conditions.
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