Mechanically Stiff Nanocomposite Hydrogels at Ultralow Nanoparticle Content. Academic Article uri icon


  • Although hydrogels are able to mimic native tissue microenvironments, their utility for biomedical applications is severely hampered due to limited mechanical stiffness and low toughness. Despite recent progress in designing stiff and tough hydrogels, it is still challenging to achieve a cell-friendly, high modulus construct. Here, we report a highly efficient method to reinforce collagen-based hydrogels using extremely low concentrations of a nanoparticulate-reinforcing agent that acts as a cross-link epicenter. Extraordinarily, the addition of these nanoparticles at a 10000-fold lower concentration relative to polymer resulted in a more than 10-fold increase in mechanical stiffness and a 20-fold increase in toughness. We attribute the high stiffness of the nanocomposite network to the chemical functionality of the nanoparticles, which enabled the cross-linking of multiple polymeric chains to the nanoparticle surface. The mechanical stiffness of the nanoengineered hydrogel can be tailored between 0.2 and 200 kPa simply by manipulating the size of the nanoparticles (4, 8, and 12 nm), as well as the concentrations of the nanoparticles and polymer. Moreover, cells can be easily encapsulated within the nanoparticulate-reinforced hydrogel network, showing high viability. In addition, encapsulated cells were able to sense and respond to matrix stiffness. Overall, these results demonstrate a facile approach to modulate the mechanical stiffness of collagen-based hydrogels and may have broad utility for various biomedical applications, including use as tissue-engineered scaffolds and cell/protein delivery vehicles.

published proceedings

  • ACS Nano

altmetric score

  • 15

author list (cited authors)

  • Jaiswal, M. K., Xavier, J. R., Carrow, J. K., Desai, P., Alge, D., & Gaharwar, A. K.

citation count

  • 151

complete list of authors

  • Jaiswal, Manish K||Xavier, Janet R||Carrow, James K||Desai, Prachi||Alge, Daniel||Gaharwar, Akhilesh K

publication date

  • January 2016