ACS Applied Bio Materials, vol.6, 2023 (ESCI)
Inspired by nature, we designed organohydrogels (OHGs) consisting of a silk fibroin (SF) hydrogel as the continuous phase and the hydrophobic microinclusions based on semicrystalline poly(n-octadecyl acrylate) (PC18A) as the dispersed phase. SF acts as a self-emulsifier to obtain oil-in-water emulsions, and hence, it is a versatile and green alternative to chemical emulsifiers. We first prepared a stable oil-in-water emulsion without an external emulsifier by dispersing the n-octadecyl acrylate (C18A) monomer in an aqueous SF solution. To stabilize the emulsions for longer times, gelation in the continuous SF phase was induced by the addition of ethanol, which is known to trigger the conformational transition in SF from random coil to β-sheet structures. In the second step, in situ polymerization of C18A droplets in the emulsion system was conducted under UV light in the presence of a photoinitiator to obtain high-strength OHGs with shape-memory function, and good cytocompatibility. The incorporation of hydrophilic N,N-dimethylacrylamide and noncrystallizable hydrophobic lauryl methacrylate units in the hydrogel and organogel phases of OHGs, respectively, further improved their mechanical and shape-memory properties. The shape-memory OHGs presented here exhibit switchable viscoelasticity and mechanics, a high Young’s modulus (up to 4.3 ± 0.1 MPa), compressive strength (up to 2.5 ± 0.1 MPa), and toughness (up to 0.68 MPa).