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Effects of a pseudophysiological environment on the elastic and viscoelastic properties of collagen gels.

ABSTRACT

Vascular tissue engineering focuses on the replacement of diseased small-diameter blood vessels with a diameter less than 6 mm for which adequate substitutes still do not exist. One approach to vascular tissue engineering is to culture vascular cells on a scaffold in a bioreactor. The bioreactor establishes pseudophysiological conditions for culture (medium culture, 37°C, mechanical stimulation). Collagen gels are widely used as scaffolds for tissue regeneration due to their biological properties; however, they exhibit low mechanical properties. Mechanical characterization of these scaffolds requires establishing the conditions of testing in regard to the conditions set in the bioreactor. The effects of different parameters used during mechanical testing on the collagen gels were evaluated in terms of mechanical and viscoelastic properties. Thus, a factorial experiment was adopted, and three relevant factors were considered: temperature (23°C or 37°C), hydration (aqueous saline solution or air), and mechanical preconditioning (with or without). Statistical analyses showed significant effects of these factors on the mechanical properties which were assessed by tensile tests as well as stress relaxation tests. The last tests provide a more consistent understanding of the gels' viscoelastic properties. Therefore, performing mechanical analyses on hydrogels requires setting an adequate environment in terms of temperature and aqueous saline solution as well as choosing the adequate test.