Elastic tissue equivalence is a vital requirement of synthetic materials proposed for many resilient, soft tissue engineering applications. Here we present a bioelastomer made from tropoelastin, the human protein that naturally facilitates elasticity and cell interactions in all elastic tissues. We combined this protein's innate versatility with fast non-toxic fabrication techniques to make highly extensible, cell compatible hydrogels. These hydrogels can be produced in less than a minute through photocrosslinking of methacrylated tropoelastin (MeTro) in an aqueous solution. The fabricated MeTro gels exhibited high extensibility (up to 400%) and superior mechanical properties that outperformed other photocrosslinkable hydrogels. MeTro gels were used to encapsulate cells within a flexible 3D environment and to manufacture highly elastic 2D films for cell attachment, growth, and proliferation. In addition, the physical properties of this fabricated bioelastomer such as elasticity, stiffness, and pore characteristics were tuned through manipulation of the methacrylation degree and protein concentration. This photocrosslinkable, functional tissue mimetic gel benefits from the innate biological properties of a human elastic protein and opens new opportunities in tissue engineering.

This paper was originally published in Biomaterials Volume 34, Issue 22, July 2013, Pages 5496–5505

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