Multiscale fabrication of biomimetic scaffolds for tympanic membrane tissue engineering

The tympanic membrane (TM) is a thin tissue able to efficiently collect and transmit sound vibrations across the middle ear thanks to the particular orientation of its collagen fibers, radiate on one side and circular on the opposite side. Through the combination of advanced scaffolds and autologous cells, tissue engineering (TE) could offer valuable alternatives to autografting in major TM lesions. In this study, a multiscale approach based on electrospinning (ES) and additive manufacturing (AM) was investigated to fabricate scaffolds, based on FDA approved copolymers, resembling the anatomic features and collagen fiber arrangement of the human TM. A single scale TM scaffold was manufactured using a custom-made collector designed to confer a radial macro-arrangement to poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) electrospun fibers during their deposition. Dual and triple scale scaffolds were fabricated combining conventional ES with AM to produce poly(ethylene oxide terephthalate)/poly(butylene terephthalate) block copolymer scaffolds with anatomic-like architecture. The processing parameters were optimized for each manufacturing method and copolymer. TM scaffolds were cultured in vitro with human mesenchymal stromal cells, which were viable, metabolically active and organized following the anisotropic character of the scaffolds. The highest viability, cell density and protein content were detected in dual and triple scale scaffolds. Our findings showed that these biomimetic micro-patterned substrates enabled cell disposal along architectural directions, thus appearing as promising substrates for developing functional TM replacements via TE.