Layer-by-layer fabrication of 3D hydrogel structures using open microfluidics†
Patterned deposition and 3D fabrication techniques have enabled the use of hydrogels for a number of applications including microfluidics, sensors, separations, and tissue engineering in which form fits function. Devices such as reconfigurable microvalves or implantable tissues have been created using lithography or casting techniques. Here, we present a novel open-microfluidic patterning method that utilizes surface tension forces to form hydrogel layers on top of each other, into a patterned 3D structure. We use a patterning device to form a temporary open microfluidic channel on an existing gel layer, allowing the controlled flow of unpolymerized gel in device-regions. After layer gelation and device removal, the process can be repeated iteratively to create multi-layered 3D structures. The use of open-microfluidic and surface tension-based methods to define the shape of each individual layer enables patterning to be performed with a simple pipette and with minimal dead-volume. Our method is compatible with unmodified (native) biological hydrogels, and other non-biological materials with precursor fluid properties compatible with capillary flow. With our open-microfluidic layer-by-layer fabrication method, we demonstrate the capability to build agarose, type I collagen, and polymer–peptide 3D structures featuring asymmetric designs, multiple components, overhanging features, and cell-laden regions.