I-Optimal Design of Hierarchical 3D Scaffolds Produced by Combining Additive Manufacturing and Thermally Induced Phase Separation

The limitations in the transport of oxygen, nutrients, and metabolic waste products pose a challenge to the development of bioengineered bone of clinically relevant size. This paper reports the design and characterization of hierarchical macro/microporous scaffolds made of poly(lactic-co-glycolic) acid and nanohydroxyapatite (PLGA/nHA). These scaffolds were produced by combining additive manufacturing (AM) and thermally induced phase separation (TIPS) techniques. Macrochannels with diameters of ∼300 μm, ∼380 μm, and ∼460 μm were generated by embedding porous 3D-plotted polyethylene glycol (PEG) inside PLGA/nHA/1,4-dioxane or PLGA/1,4-dioxane solutions, followed by PEG extraction using deionized (DI) water. We have used an I-optimal design of experiments (DoE) and the response surface analysis (JMP software) to relate three responses (scaffold thickness, porosity, and modulus) to the four experimental factors affecting the scaffold macro/microstructures (e.g., PEG strand diameter, PLGA concentration, nHA content, and TIPS temperature). Our results indicated that a PEG strand diameter of ∼380 μm, a PLGA concentration of ∼10% w/v, a nHA content of ∼10% w/w, and a TIPS temperature around −10 °C could generate scaffolds with a porosity of ∼90% and a modulus exceeding 4 MPa. This paper presents the steps for the I-optimal design of these scaffolds and reports on their macro/microstructures, characterized using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and microcomputed tomography (micro-CT).