Penn State researchers 3D print microfiber scaffolds for tissue growth using off-the-shelf system

Scientists from Penn State University are developing a method for 3D printing the “structural framework” of artificially grown living tissue using commercial desktop 3D printing technology. The process consists of reinforcing cell-infused hydrogel materials with supportive 3D printed fiber networks.

The fibers printed into implantable hydrogels to structure them could act, in a sense, like rebar reinforcements in cement, say the researchers. “If we can lend some structure to the gel, we can grow living cells in defined patterns and eventually the fibers will dissolve and go away,” added Justin L. Brown, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Penn State.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the research project, however, is that it is utilizing affordable, off-the-shelf 3D printing technology to advance 3D bioprinting.

As the researchers elaborate, their innovative technique combines desktop 3D printing technology with electrospinning technology, which is a process that uses electric force to produce nanometer-scale fibers from threads of melted polymer or polymer solutions. This combination allows for the creation of “high resolution and repeatable 3D polymer fiber patterns on nonconductive materials for tissue engineering.”

With these nanometer threaded scaffold-like patterns, the researchers have demonstrated the ability to grow cells on them and have successfully deposited the structures into cell-infused collagen hydrogel materials.

The aim of the research is to create an accessible and low cost method for producing complex human tissues with the potential for implantation.

“The overarching idea is that if we could multiplex electrospinning with a collagen gel and bioprinting, we could build large and complex tissue interfaces, such as bone to cartilage,” explained Pouria Fattahi, a doctoral student in bioengineering. “Others have created these combination tissues using a microextrusion bioprinter.”

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