Hyaluronic acid (HA), a major component of the extracellular matrix, is an attractive material for various medical applications. Yet, its low mechanical rigidity and fast in vivo degradation hinder its utilization. Here, we demonstrate the reinforcement of HA by its integration with a low-molecular-weight peptide hydrogelator to produce a composite hydrogel. The formulation of HA with the fluorenylmethoxycarbonyl diphenylalanine (FmocFF) peptide, one of the most studied self-assembling hydrogel-forming building blocks, showing notable mechanical properties, resulted in the formation of stable, homogeneous hydrogels. Electron microscopy analysis demonstrated a uniform distribution of the two matrices in the composite forms. The composite hydrogels showed improved mechanical properties and stability to enzymatic degradation while maintaining their biocompatibility. Moreover, the storage modulus of the FmocFF/HA composite hydrogels reached up to 25 kPa. The composite hydrogels allowed sustained release of curcumin, a hydrophobic polyphenol showing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antitumor activities. Importantly, the rate of curcumin release was modulated as a function of the concentration of the FmocFF peptide within the hydrogel matrix. This work provides a new approach for conferring mechanical rigidity and stability to HA without the need of cross-linking, thus potentially facilitating its utilization in different clinical applications, such as sustained drug release.
- tissue engineering