Click Chemistry Hydrogels for Extrusion Bioprinting: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities
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The emergence of 3D bioprinting has allowed a variety of hydrogel-based "bioinks" to be printed in the presence of cells to create precisely defined cell-loaded 3D scaffolds in a single step for advancing tissue engineering and/or regenerative medicine. While existing bioinks based primarily on ionic cross-linking, photo-cross-linking, or thermogelation have significantly advanced the field, they offer technical limitations in terms of the mechanics, degradation rates, and the cell viabilities achievable with the printed scaffolds, particularly in terms of aiming to match the wide range of mechanics and cellular microenvironments. Click chemistry offers an appealing solution to this challenge given that proper selection of the chemistry can enable precise tuning of both the gelation rate and the degradation rate, both key to successful tissue regeneration; simultaneously, the often bio-orthogonal nature of click chemistry is beneficial to maintain high cell viabilities within the scaffolds. However, to date, relatively few examples of 3D-printed click chemistry hydrogels have been reported, mostly due to the technical challenges of controlling mixing during the printing process to generate high-fidelity prints without clogging the printer. This review aims to showcase existing cross-linking modalities, characterize the advantages and disadvantages of different click chemistries reported, highlight current examples of click chemistry hydrogel bioinks, and discuss the design of mixing strategies to enable effective 3D extrusion bioprinting of click hydrogels.
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