Label free process monitoring of 3D bioprinted engineered constructs via dielectric impedance spectroscopy

Biofabrication processes can affect biological quality attributes of encapsulated cells within constructs. Currently, assessment of the fabricated constructs is performed offline by subjecting the constructs to destructive assays that require staining and sectioning. This drawback limits the translation of biofabrication processes to industrial practice. In this work, we investigate the dielectric response of viable cells encapsulated in bioprinted 3D hydrogel constructs to an applied alternating electric field as a label-free non-destructive monitoring approach. The relationship between β-dispersion parameters (permittivity change—Δε, Cole–Cole slope factor—α, critical polarization frequency—f c ) over the frequency spectrum and critical cellular quality attributes are investigated. Results show that alginate constructs containing a higher number of viable cells (human adipose derived stem cells—hASC and osteosarcoma cell line—MG63) were characterized by significantly higher Δε and α (both p < 0.05). When extended to bioprinting, results showed that changes in hASC proliferation and viability in response to changes in critical bioprinting parameters (extrusion pressure, temperature, processing time) significantly affected ∆ε, α, and f c . We also demonstrated monitoring of hASC distribution after bioprinting and changes in proliferation over time across the cross-section of a bioprinted medial knee meniscus construct. The trends in ∆ε over time were in agreement with the alamarBlue assay results for the whole construct, but this measurement approach provided a localized readout on the status of encapsulated cells. The findings of this study support the use of dielectric impedance spectroscopy as a label-free and non-destructive method to characterize the critical quality attributes of bioprinted constructs.