Human hair keratins have a strong potential for development as clinically relevant biomaterials because they are abundant and bioactive and are a realistic source of autologous proteins. Specifically, keratins have the propensity to polymerize in an aqueous environment to form hydrogels. In order to evaluate the suitability of keratin hydrogels as substrates for cell culture, we have fabricated hydrogels using keratins extracted from human hair by inducing polymerization with Ca2+; these hydrogels exhibit highly branched and porous micro-architectures. L929 murine fibroblasts have been used in a preliminary cell culture study to compare the in vitro biocompatibility of the keratin hydrogels with collagen type 1 hydrogels of similar viscoelastic properties. Our results reveal that keratin hydrogels are comparable with collagen hydrogels in terms of the promotion of cell adhesion, proliferation and the preservation of cell viability. Interestingly, cells remain clustered in proliferative colonies within the keratin hydrogels but are homogeneously distributed as single cells in collagen hydrogels. Collectively, our results demonstrate that keratin hydrogels can be used as substrates for cell culture. Such gels might find applications as templates for soft tissue regeneration.
Citation: Wang S, Taraballi F, Tan LP, Ng KW. Human keratin hydrogels support fibroblast attachment and proliferation in vitro. Cell and Tissue Research. 2012; 347(3): 795-802