One of the critical challenges that scaffolding faces in the organ and tissue regeneration field lies in mimicking the structure, and the chemical and biological properties of natural tissue. A high-level control over the architecture, mechanical properties and composition of the materials in contact with cells is essential to overcome such challenge. Therefore, definition of the method, materials and parameters for the production of scaffolds during the fabrication stage is critical. With the recent emergence of rapid prototyping (RP), it is now possible to create three-dimensional (3D) scaffolds with the essential characteristics for the proliferation and regeneration of tissues, such as porosity, mechanical strength, pore size and pore interconnectivity, and biocompatibility.
In this study, we employed 3D bioplotting, a RP technology, to fabricate scaffolds made from (i) pure polycaprolactone (PCL) and (ii) a composite based on PCL and ceramic micro-powder. The ceramics used for the composite were bovine bone filling Nukbone® (NKB), and hydroxyapatite (HA) with 5%, 10% or 20% wt. content. The scaffolds were fabricated in a cellular lattice structure (i.e. meshing mode) using a 0/90° lay down pattern with a continuous contour filament in order to achieve interconnected porous reticular structures. We varied the temperature, as well as injection speed and pressure during the bioplotting process to achieve scaffolds with pore size ranging between 200 and 400 μm and adequate mechanical stability. The resulting scaffolds had an average pore size of 323 μm and an average porosity of 32%.
Characterization through ATR-FTIR revealed the presence of the characteristic bands of hydroxyapatite in the PCL matrix, and presented an increase of the intensity of the phosphate and carbonyl bands as the ceramic content increased. The bioplotted 3D scaffolds have a Young’s modulus (E) in the range between 0.121 and 0.171 GPa, which is compatible with the modulus of natural bone. PCL/NKB scaffolds, particularly 10NKBP (10% NKB wt.) exhibited the highest proliferation optical density, demonstrating an evident osteoconductive effect when cultured in Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle Medium (DMEM). Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) confirmed osteoblast anchorage to all composite scaffolds, but a low adhesion to the all-PCL scaffold, as well as cell proliferation. The results from this study demonstrate the potential of PCL/NKB 3D bioplotted scaffolds as viable platforms to enable osseous tissue formation, which can be used in several tissue engineering applications, including improvement of bone tissue regeneration