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Despite intensive research, hydrogels currently available for tissue repair in the musculoskeletal system are unable to meet the mechanical, as well as the biological, requirements for successful outcomes. Here we reinforce soft hydrogels with highly organized, high-porosity microfibre networks that are 3D-printed with a technique termed as melt electrospinning writing. We show that the stiffness of the gel/scaffold composites increases synergistically (up to 54-fold), compared with hydrogels or microfibre scaffolds alone. Modelling affirms that reinforcement with defined microscale structures is applicable to numerous hydrogels. The stiffness and elasticity of the composites approach that of articular cartilage tissue. Human chondrocytes embedded in the composites are viable, retain their round morphology and are responsive to an in vitro physiological loading regime in terms of gene expression and matrix production. The current approach of reinforcing hydrogels with 3D-printed microfibres offers a fundament for producing tissue constructs with biological and mechanical compatibility.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Acrylamides, Alginates, Animals, Cartilage, Articular, Cells, Cultured, Chondrocytes, Chondrogenesis, Compressive Strength, Elasticity, Glucuronic Acid, Hexuronic Acids, Horses, Humans, Hydrogels, Models, Theoretical, Polyesters, Printing, Three-Dimensional, Tissue Scaffolds