National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project No. 61302003, 61475183 and 61503258), the NSFC/RGC Joint Research Scheme (Project No. 51461165501) and the CAS FEA International Partnership Program for Creative Research Teams and the Instrument Developing Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. yz201339).
Poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) is a common hydrogel that has been actively investigated for various tissue engineering applications owing to its biocompatibility and excellent mechanical properties. However, the native PEGDA films are known for their bio-inertness which can hinder cell adhesion, thereby limiting their applications in tissue engineering and biomedicine. Recently, nano composite technology has become a particularly hot topic, and has led to the development of new methods for delivering desired properties to nanomaterials. In this study, we added polystyrene nano-spheres (PS) into a PEGDA solution to synthesize a nano-composite film and evaluated its characteristics. The experimental results showed that addition of the nanospheres to the PEGDA film not only resulted in modification of the mechanical properties and surface morphology but further improved the adhesion of cells on the film. The tensile modulus showed clear dependence on the addition of PS, which enhanced the mechanical properties of the PEGDA-PS film. We attribute the high stiffness of the hybrid hydrogel to the formation of additional cross-links between polymeric chains and the nano-sphere surface in the network. The effect of PS on cell adhesion and proliferation was evaluated in L929 mouse fibroblast cells that were seeded on the surface of various PEGDA-PS films. Cells density increased with a larger PS concentration, and the cells displayed a spreading morphology on the hybrid films, which promoted cell proliferation. Impressively, cellular stiffness could also be modulated simply by tuning the concentration of nano-spheres. Our results indicate that the addition of PS can effectively tailor the physical and biological properties of PEGDA as well as the mechanical properties of cells, with benefits for biomedical and biotechnological applications.