Interfacial optimization of fiber-reinforced hydrogel composites for soft fibrous tissue applications

Julianne L. Holloway, Anthony M. Lowman, Mark R. Vanlandingham, Giuseppe R. Palmese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Meniscal tears are the most common orthopedic injuries to the human body, yet the current treatment of choice is a partial meniscectomy, which is known to lead to joint degeneration and osteoarthritis. As a result, there is a significant clinical need to develop materials capable of restoring function to the meniscus following an injury. Fiber-reinforced hydrogel composites are particularly suited for replicating the mechanical function of native fibrous tissues due to their ability to mimic the native anisotropic property distribution present. A critical issue with these materials, however, is the potential for the fiber-matrix interfacial properties to severely limit composite performance. In this work, the interfacial properties of an ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber-reinforced poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) hydrogel are studied. A novel chemical grafting technique, confirmed using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, is used to improve UHMWPE-PVA interfacial adhesion. Interfacial shear strength is quantified using fiber pull-out tests. Results indicate significantly improved fiber-hydrogel interfacial adhesion after chemical grafting, where chemically grafted samples have an interfacial shear strength of 256.4 ± 64.3 kPa compared to 11.5 ± 2.9 kPa for untreated samples. Additionally, scanning electron microscopy of fiber surfaces after fiber pull-out reveal cohesive failure within the hydrogel matrix for treated fiber samples, indicating that the UHMWPE-PVA interface has been successfully optimized. Lastly, inter-fiber spacing is observed to have a significant effect on interfacial adhesion. Fibers spaced further apart have significantly higher interfacial shear strengths, which is critical to consider when optimizing composite design. The results in this study are applicable in developing similar chemical grafting techniques and optimizing fiber-matrix interfacial properties for other hydrogel-based composite systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3581-3589
Number of pages9
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Composite
  • Hydrogel
  • Interfacial strength
  • Meniscus
  • Poly(vinyl alcohol)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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