An interesting, and potentially important, challenge for colloid scientists is to design injectable dispersions that enable repair of damaged and degenerated tissue. This work presents a study of the ability of pH-responsive microgel particles to restore the mechanical properties of load-bearing soft tissue. Microgel particles are cross-linked polymer colloid particles that are swollen with solvent. The first part of the study consists of an investigation of the pH-triggered swelling of poly(EA/MAA/BDDA) (ethylacrylate, methacrylic acid and 1,4-butanediol diacrylate) microgel particles using photon correlation spectroscopy (PCS) measurements. The concentrated dispersions exhibit a strong fluid-to-gel transition when the pH is increased to above 6.0, i.e., above this pH they form gelled microgel dispersions. The swelling data are used to aid interpretation of the pH-triggered changes in the gel modulus, as probed using dynamic rheology. The second part of the study involves an investigation of the mechanical properties of artificially degenerated, model intervertebral discs (IVDs) containing gelled microgel dispersions. High concentration microgel dispersions were injected as fluids into the interior of degenerated IVDs and the pH increased by subsequent alkaline solution injection to cause particle swelling and dispersion gelation. Uniaxial compression data measured for the IVDs containing injected microgel dispersions indicate that the pH-induced particle swelling of the microgel restores the mechanical properties of degenerated IVDs to values similar to those measured for normal, non-degenerated, IVDs.
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