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The aim of this study was to develop a thermo-responsive and bioactive polymer with suitable mechanical properties for musculoskeletal tissue engineering applications. A copolymer was synthesized that comprised of hydrophilic polyethylene glycol, thermo responsive N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPAAm), 2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate-poly(lactide) (HEMA-PLA) to enhance mechanical strength and an active N-acryloxysuccinimide (NAS) group for conjugation to proteins to enhance biological properties. A model protein such as elastin was used to assess the feasibility of conjugating this polymer to protein. The results of 1HNMR analyses confirmed that random polymerization was viable technique for synthesis of this copolymer. The co-polymers synthesized with PEG content of 3 mol% were water soluble. A hydrogel was created by dissolving the copolymer and elastin below room temperature in aqueous media, followed by rapid gelation at 37°C. The results of Fourier transform infrared analyses confirmed the conjugation of protein to copolymer due to significant reduction of ester group absorption (1735 cm−1). This data confirmed molecular interaction between protein and the temperature responsive co-polymer. Our preliminary results demonstrated that it is viable to tune different properties of this hydrogel by changing the composition of co-polymer.
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