3D hybrid printing platform for auricular cartilage reconstruction
As scaffolds approach dimensions that are of clinical relevance, mechanical integrity and distribution becomes an important factor to the overall success of the implant. Hydrogels often lack the structural integrity and mechanical properties for use in vivo or handling. The inclusion of a structural support during the printing process, referred to as hybrid printing, allows the implant to retain structure and protect cells during maturation without needing to compromise its biological performance. In this study, scaffolds for the purpose of auricular cartilage reconstruction were evaluated via a hybrid printing approach using methacrylated Gelatin (GelMA) and Hyaluronic acid (HAMA) as the cell-laden hydrogel, Polycaprolactone (PCL) as structural support and Lutrol F-127 as sacrificial material. Furthermore, printing parameters such as nozzle diameter, strand spacing and filament orientation scaffolds were investigated. Compression and bending tests showed that increasing nozzle sizes decrease the compressive modulus of printed scaffolds, with up to 82% decrease in modulus when comparing between a 400 μm and 200 μm sized nozzle tip at the same strand spacing. On the contrary, strand spacing and orientation influences mainly the bending modulus due to the greater porosity and changes in pore size area. Using a 400 μm sized nozzle, scaffolds fabricated have a measured compression and bending modulus in the range similar to the native cartilage. The viability and proliferation of human mesenchymal stem cells delivered within the bioink was not affected by the printing process. Using results obtained from mechanical testing, a scaffold with matching mechanical properties across six distinct regions mimicking the human auricular cartilage can be completed in one single print process. The use of PCL and GelMA-HAMA as structural support and cell-laden hydrogel respectively are an excellent combination to provide tailored mechanical integrity, while maintaining porosity and protection to cells during differentiation.