Influence of diisocyanate reactivity and water solubility on the formation and the mechanical properties of gelatin-based networks in water


Gelatin can be covalently crosslinked in aqueous solution by application of diisocyanates like L-lysine diisocyanate ethyl ester in order to form hydrogels. Reaction of isocyanate groups with water is however a limiting factor in hydrogel network formation and can strongly influence the outcome of the crosslinking process. Here, diisocyanates with different water solubility and reactivity were applied for the formation of gelatin-based hydrogel networks and the mechanical properties of the hydrogels were investigated to gain a better understanding of starting material/ hydrogel property relations. L-Lysin diisocyanate ethyl ester (LDI), 2, 4-toluene diisocyanate (TDI), 1, 4-butane diisocyanate (BDI), and isophorone diisocyanate (IPDI) were selected, having different solubility in water ranging from 10-4 to 10-2 mol┬ĚL-1. BDI and LDI were estimated to have average reactive isocyanates groups, whereas TDI is highly reactive and IPDI has low reactivity. Formed hydrogels showed different morphologies and were partially very inhomogeneous. Gelation time (1 to 50 minutes), water uptake (300 to 900 wt.-%), and mechanical properties determined by tensile tests (E-moduli 35 to 370 kPa) and rheology (Shear moduli 4.5 to 19.5 kPa) showed that high water solubility as well as high reactivity leads to the formation of poorly crosslinked or inhomogeneous materials. Nevertheless, diisocyanates with lower solubility in water and low reactivity are able to form stable, homogeneous hydrogel networks with gelatin in water.
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