Applying macromolecular crowding to 3D bioprinting: fabrication of 3D hierarchical porous collagen-based hydrogel constructs
Native tissues and/or organs possess complex hierarchical porous structures that confer highly-specific cellular functions. Despite advances in fabrication processes, it is still very challenging to emulate the hierarchical porous collagen architecture found in most native tissues. Hence, the ability to recreate such hierarchical porous structures would result in biomimetic tissue-engineered constructs. Here, a single-step drop-on-demand (DOD) bioprinting strategy is proposed to fabricate hierarchical porous collagen-based hydrogels. Printable macromolecule-based bio-inks (polyvinylpyrrolidone, PVP) have been developed and printed in a DOD manner to manipulate the porosity within the multi-layered collagen-based hydrogels by altering the collagen fibrillogenesis process. The experimental results have indicated that hierarchical porous collagen structures could be achieved by controlling the number of macromolecule-based bio-ink droplets printed on each printed collagen layer. This facile single-step bioprinting process could be useful for the structural design of collagen-based hydrogels for various tissue engineering applications.