Low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, but current therapeutic interventions are palliative or surgical in nature. Loss of notochordal cells (NCs) and degradation of the healthy matrix in the nucleus pulposus (NP), the central tissue of intervertebral discs (IVDs), has been associated with onset of degenerative disc changes. Recently, we established a protocol for decellularization of notochordal cell derived matrix (NCM) and found that it can provide regenerative cues to nucleus pulposus cells of the IVD. Here, we combined the biologically regenerative properties of decellularized NCM with the mechanical tunability of a poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogel to additionally address biomechanics in the degenerate IVD. We further introduced a hydrolysable PEG-diurethane crosslinker for slow degradation of the gels in vivo. The resulting hydrogels were tunable over a broad range of stiffness’s (0.2 to 4.5 kPa), matching that of NC-rich and -poor NP tissues, respectively. Gels formed within 30 min, giving ample time for handling, and remained shear-thinning post-polymerization. Gels also slowly released dNCM over 28 days as measured by GAG effusion. Viability of encapsulated bone marrow stromal cells after extrusion through a needle remained high. Although encapsulated NCs stayed viable over two weeks, their metabolic activity decreased, and their phenotype was lost in physiological medium conditions in vitro. Overall, the obtained gels hold promise for application in degenerated IVDs but require further tuning for combined use with NCs.
Full Access Link: Journal of Biomedical Materials Research - Part A