Mechanically Strong Silica-Silk Fibroin Bioaerogel: A Hybrid Scaffold with Ordered Honeycomb Micromorphology and Multiscale Porosity for Bone Regeneration

Hajar Maleki, Mohammad-Ali Shahbazi*, Susan Montes, Seyed Hojjat Hosseini, Mohammad Reza Eskandari, Stefan Zaunschirm, Thomas Verwanger, Sanjay Mathur, Barbara Milow, Barbara Krammer, Nicola Hüsing

*Corresponding author for this work

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Due to the synergic feature of individual components in hybrid (nano)biomaterials, their application in regenerative medicine has drawn significant attention. Aiming to address all the current challenges of aerogel as a potent scaffold in bone tissue engineering application, we adopted a novel synthesis approach to synergistically improve the pore size regime and mechanical strength in the aerogel. The three-dimensional aerogel scaffold in this study has been synthesized through a versatile one-pot aqueous-based sol-gel hybridization/assembly of organosilane (tetraethyl orthosilicate) and silk fibroin (SF) biopolymer, followed by unidirectional freeze-casting of the as-prepared hybrid gel and supercritical drying. The developed ultralight silica-SF aerogel hybrids demonstrated a hierarchically organized porous structure with interesting honeycomb-shaped micromorphology and microstructural alignment (anisotropy) in varied length scales. The average macropore size of the hybrid aerogel lied in ∼0.5-18 μm and was systematically controlled with freeze-casting conditions. Together with high porosity (91-94%), high Young's modulus (∼4-7 MPa, >3 order of magnitude improvement compared to their pristine aerogel counterparts), and bone-type anisotropy in the mechanical compressive behavior, the silica-SF hybrid aerogel of this study acted as a very competent scaffold for bone tissue formation. The results of in vitro assessments revealed that the silica-SF aerogel is not only cytocompatible and nonhemolytic but also acted as an open porous microenvironment to trigger osteoblast cell attachment, growth, and proliferation on its surface within 14 days of incubation. Moreover, to support the in vitro results, in vivo bone formation within the aerogel implant in the bone defect site was studied. The X-ray radiology and microcomputed tomography analyses confirmed that a significant new bone tissue density formed in the defect site within 25 days of implantation. Also, in vivo toxicology studies showed a zero-toxic impact of the aerogel implant on the blood biochemical and hematological parameters. Finally, the study clearly shows the potential of aerogel as a bioactive and osteoconductive open porous cellular matrix for a successful osseointegration process.
Original languageEnglish
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number19
Pages (from-to)17256-17269
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Silica
  • Silk fibroin
  • Hybrid aerogel
  • Sol−gel
  • Bone tissue engineering


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