Engineering a morphogenetically active hydrogel for bioprinting of bioartificial tissue derived from human osteoblast-like SaOS-2 cells

Sodium alginate hydrogel, stabilized with gelatin, is a suitable, biologically inert matrix that can be used for encapsulating and 3D bioprinting of bone-related SaOS-2 cells. However, the cells, embedded in this matrix, remain in a non-proliferating state. Here we show that addition of an overlay onto the bioprinted alginate/gelatine/SaOS-2 cell scaffold, consisting of agarose and the calcium salt of polyphosphate [polyP·Ca2+-complex], resulted in a marked increase in cell proliferation. In the presence of 100 μm polyP·Ca2+-complex, the cells proliferate with a generation time of approximately 47–55 h. In addition, the hardness of the alginate/gelatin hydrogel substantially increases in the presence of the polymer. The reduced Young’s modulus for the alginate/gelatin hydrogel is approximately 13–14 kPa, and this value drops to approximately 0.5 kPa after incubation of the cell containing scaffolds for 5 d. In the presence of 100 μm polyP·Ca2+-complex, the reduced Young’s modulus increases to about 22 kPa. The hardness of the polyP·Ca2+-complex containing hydrogel remains essentially constant if cells are absent in the matrix, but it drops to 3.2 kPa after a 5 d incubation period in the presence of SaOS-2 cells, indicating that polyP·Ca2+-complex becomes metabolized, degraded, by the cells. The alginate/gelatine-agarose system with polyP·Ca2+-complex cause a significant increase in the mineralization of the cells. SEM analyses revealed that the morphology of the mineral nodules formed on the surface of the cells embedded in the alginate/gelatin hydrogel do not significantly differ from the nodules on cells growing in monolayer cultures. The newly developed technique, using cells encapsulated into an alginate/gelatin hydrogel and a secondary layer containing the morphogenetically active, growth promoting polymer polyP·Ca2+-complex opens new possibilities for the application of 3D bioprinting in bone tissue engineering.