Tough double network (DN) hydrogels are promising substitutes of soft supporting tissues such as cartilage and ligaments. For such applications, it is indispensable to robustly fix the hydrogels to bones with medically feasible methods. Recently, robustly bonding the DN hydrogels to defected bones of rabbits in vivo has been proved successful. The low crystalline hydroxyapatite (HAp) of calcium-phosphate-hydroxide salt coated on the surface layer of the DN hydrogels induced spontaneous osteogenesis penetrating into the semi-permeable hydrogels to form a gel/bone composite layer. In this work, the 44Ca isotope-doped HAp/DN hydrogel is implanted in a defect of rabbit femoral bone and the dynamic osteogenesis process at the gel/bone interface is analyzed by tracing the calcium isotope ratio using isotope microscopy. The synthetic HAp hybridized on the surface layer of DN gel dissolves rapidly in the first two weeks by inflammation, and then the immature bone with a gradient structure starts to form in the gel region, reutilizing the dissolved Ca ions. These results reveal, for the first time, that synthetic HAp is reutilized for osteogenesis. These facts help to understand the lifetime of bone absorbable materials and to elucidate the mechanism of spontaneous, non-toxic, but strong fixation of hydrogels to bones.
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