Interfacial visible light-mediated thiol-ene photoclick reactions were developed for preparing step-growth hydrogels with multilayer structures. The effect of a noncleavage type photoinitiator eosin-Y on visible-light-mediated thiol-ene photopolymerization was first characterized using in situ photorheometry, gel fraction, and equilibrium swelling ratio. Next, spectrophotometric properties of eosin-Y in the presence of various relevant macromer species were evaluated using ultraviolet-visible light (UV-vis) spectrometry. It was determined that eosin-Y was able to reinitiate the thiol-ene photoclick reaction, even after light exposure. Because of its small molecular weight, most eosin-Y molecules readily leached out from the hydrogels. The diffusion of residual eosin-Y from preformed hydrogels was exploited for fabricating multilayer step-growth hydrogels. Interfacial hydrogel coating was formed via the same visible-light-mediated gelation mechanism without adding fresh initiator. The thickness of the thiol-ene gel coating could be easily controlled by adjusting visible light exposure time, eosin-Y concentration initially loaded in the core gel, or macromer concentration in the coating solution. The major benefits of this interfacial thiol-ene coating system include its simplicity and cytocompatibility. The formation of thiol-ene hydrogels and coatings neither requires nor generates any cytotoxic components. This new gelation chemistry may have great utilities in controlled release of multiple sensitive growth factors and encapsulation of multiple cell types for tissue regeneration.
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