Anisotropic, porous hydrogels templated by lyotropic chromonic liquid crystals†
Approaches to control the microstructure of hydrogels enable the control of cell–material interactions and the design of stimuli-responsive materials. We report a versatile approach for the synthesis of anisotropic polyacrylamide hydrogels using lyotropic chromonic liquid crystal (LCLC) templating. The orientational order of LCLCs in a mold can be patterned by controlling surface anchoring conditions, which in turn patterns the polymer network. The resulting hydrogels have tunable pore size and mechanical anisotropy. For example, the elastic moduli measured parallel and perpendicular to the LCLC order are 124.9 ± 6.4 kPa and 17.4 ± 1.1 kPa for a single composition. The resulting anisotropic hydrogels also have 30% larger swelling normal to the LCLC orientation than along the LCLC orientation. By patterning the LCLC order, this anisotropic swelling can be used to create 3D hydrogel structures. These anisotropic gels can also be functionalized with extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins and used as compliant substrata for cell culture. As an illustrative example, we show that the patterned hydrogel microstructure can be used to direct the orientation of cultured human corneal fibroblasts. This strategy to make anisotropic hydrogels has potential for enabling patternable tissue scaffolds, soft robotics, or microfluidic devices.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Journal of Materials Chemistry B Emerging Investigators