A new bioactive scaffold was prepared from a binary polysaccharide mixture composed of a polyanion (alginate) and a polycation (a lactose-modified chitosan, chitlac). Its potential use for articular chondrocytes encapsulation and cartilage reconstructive surgery applications has been studied. The hydrogel combines the ability of alginate to act as a 3D supporting structure with the capability of the second component (chitlac) to provide interactions with porcine articular chondrocytes. Physico-chemical characterization of the scaffold was accomplished by gel kinetics and compression measurements and demonstrated that alginate-chitlac mixture (AC-mixture) hydrogels exhibit better mechanical properties when compared with sole alginate hydrogels. Furthermore, biochemical and biological studies showed that these 3D scaffolds are able to maintain chondrocyte phenotype and particularly to significantly stimulate and promote chondrocyte growth and proliferation. In conclusion, the present study can be considered as a first step towards an engineered, biologically active scaffold for chondrocyte in vitro cultivation, expansion, and cell delivery.
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