Indexed on: 11 Aug '17Published on: 11 Aug '17Published in: Biofabrication
Effective vascularization is crucial for three-dimensional (3D) printed hydrogel-cell constructs to efficiently supply cells with oxygen and nutrients. Till date, several hydrogel blends have been developed that allow the in vitro formation of a capillary-like network within the gels but comparatively less effort has been made to improve the suitability of the materials for a 3D bioprinting process. Therefore, we hypothesize that tailored hydrogel blends of photo-crosslinkable gelatin and type I collagen exhibit favorable 3D drop-on-demand printing characteristics in terms of rheological and mechanical properties and that further capillary-like network formation can be induced by co-culturing human umbilical vein endothelial cells and human mesenchymal stem cells within the proposed blends. Gelatin was methacrylated (GelMA) at a high degree of functionalization, mixed with cells, type I collagen, and the photoinitiator Irgacure 2959 and then subsequently crosslinked with UV light. After 14 d of incubation, cells were immunofluorescently labeled (CD31) and displayed using two-photon laser scanning microscopy. Hydrogels were rheologically characterized and dispensable droplet volumes were measured using a custom built 3D drop-on-demand bioprinter. The cell viability remained high in controllable crosslinking conditions both in 2D and 3D. In general, higher UV light exposure and increased Irgacure concentration were associated with lower cell viabilities. Distinctive capillary-like structures were formed in 3D printable GelMA-collagen hydrogels. The characteristic crosslinking time for GelMA in the range of minutes was not altered when GelMA was blended with type I collagen. Moreover, the addition of collagen led to enhanced cell spreading, a shear thinning behavior of the hydrogel solution and increased the storage modulus of the crosslinked gel. We therefore conclude that GelMA-collagen hydrogels exhibit favorable biological as well as rheological properties which are suitable for the manufacturing of pre-vascularized tissue replacement by 3D bioprinting.