Localized and long-term delivery of growth factors has been a long-standing challenge for stem cell-based tissue engineering. In the current study, a polymeric drug depot-anchoring hydrogel scaffold was developed for the sustained release of macromolecules to enhance the differentiation of stem cells. Self-assembling peptide (RADA16)-modified drug depots (RDDs) were prepared and anchored to a RADA16 hydrogel. The anchoring effect of RADA16 modification on the RDDs was tested both in vitro and in vivo. It was shown that the in vitro leakage of RDDs from the RADA16 hydrogel was significantly less than that of the unmodified drug depots (DDs). In addition, the in vivo retention of injected hydrogel-incorporated RDDs was significantly longer than that of hydrogel-incorporated unmodified DDs. A model drug, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), was encapsulated in RDDs (V-RDDs) as drug depot that was then anchored to the hydrogel. The release of VEGF could be sustained for 4 weeks. Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) were cultured on the V-RDDs-anchoring scaffold and enhanced cell proliferation and differentiation were observed, compared with a VEGF-loaded scaffold. Furthermore, this scaffold laden with EPCs promoted neovascularization in an animal model of hind limb ischemia. These results demonstrate that self-assembling hydrogel-anchored drug-loaded RDDs are promising for localized and sustained drug release, and can effectively enhance the proliferation and differentiation of resident stem cells, thus lead to successful tissue regeneration.Graphical abstract
Schematic illustration of a vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-loaded RDDs-anchoring hydrogel. The RADA16 peptide is the basic self-assembling unit forming fiber and constructing hydrogel; poly (lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) based, VEGF-loaded drug depots (DDs) were modified using the RADA16 peptide (V-RDDs) to anchor them to the skeleton of the hydrogel; PEG was applied as a spacer to ensure the full stretch of the RADA16 peptide. VEGF demonstrated sustained release into the hydrogel to enhance the proliferation and differentiation of resident EPCs.