Fabrication and characterization of gels with integrated channels using 3D printing with microfluidic nozzle for tissue engineering applications
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The lack of a simple and effective method to integrate vascular network with engineered scaffolds and tissue constructs remains one of the biggest challenges in true 3D tissue engineering. Here, we detail the use of a commercially available, low-cost, open-source 3D printer modified with a microfluidic print-head in order to develop a method for the generation of instantly perfusable vascular network integrated with gel scaffolds seeded with cells. The print-head features an integrated coaxial nozzle that allows the fabrication of hollow, calcium-polymerized alginate tubes that can be easily patterned using 3D printing techniques. The diameter of the hollow channel can be precisely controlled and varied between 500 μm - 2 mm by changing applied flow rates or print-head speed. These channels are integrated into gel layers with a thickness of 800 μm - 2.5 mm. The structural rigidity of these constructs allows the fabrication of multi-layered structures without causing the collapse of hollow channels in lower layers. The 3D printing method was fully characterized at a range of operating speeds (0-40 m/min) and corresponding flow rates (1-30 mL/min) were identified to produce precise definition. This microfluidic design also allows the incorporation of a wide range of scaffold materials as well as biological constituents such as cells, growth factors, and ECM material. Media perfusion of the channels causes a significant viability increase in the bulk of cell-laden structures over the long-term. With this setup, gel constructs with embedded arrays of hollow channels can be created and used as a potential substitute for blood vessel networks.
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