Structural reinforcement of cell-laden hydrogels with microfabricated three dimensional scaffolds†
Hydrogels commonly used in tissue engineering are mechanically soft and thus often display structural weakness. Herein, we introduce a strategy for enhancing the structural integrity and fracture toughness of cell-laden hydrogels by incorporating a three-dimensional (3D) microfabricated scaffold as a structural element. Digital micromirror device projection printing (DMD-PP) system, a rapid prototyping technology which employs a layer-by-layer stereolithographic approach, was utilized to efficiently fabricate 3D scaffolds made from photocrosslinkable poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA). The scaffold was incorporated into a photocrosslinkable gelatin hydrogel by placing it in a pre-gel solution, and inducing in situ hydrogel formation. The resulting scaffold-reinforced hydrogels demonstrated a significant increase in ultimate stress and provided structural support for mechanically weak hydrogels. In addition, the scaffold did not affect the rigidity of hydrogels, as it was not involved in the crosslinking reaction to form the hydrogel. Therefore, the presented approach could avoid inadvertent and undesired changes in the hydrogel rigidity which is a known regulator of cellular activities. Furthermore, the biocompatibility of scaffold-reinforced hydrogels was confirmed by evaluating the viability and proliferation of encapsulated fibroblasts. Overall, the strategy of incorporating 3D scaffolds into hydrogels as structural reinforcements presented in this study will be highly useful for enhancing the mechanical toughness of hydrogels for various tissue engineering applications.
- This article is part of the themed collections: Emerging Investigators and 2014's most accessed Biomaterials Science articles