Cartilage is a dense connective tissue with limited self-repair capabilities. Mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) laden hydrogels are commonly used for fibrocartilage and articular cartilage tissue engineering, however they typically lack the mechanical integrity for implantation into high load bearing environments. This has led to increased interested in 3D bioprinting of cell laden hydrogel bioinks reinforced with stiffer polymer fibres. The objective of this study was to compare a range of commonly used hydrogel bioinks (agarose, alginate, GelMA and BioINK™) for their printing properties and capacity to support the development of either hyaline cartilage or fibrocartilage in vitro. Each hydrogel was seeded with MSCs, cultured for 28 days in the presence of TGF-β3 and then analysed for markers indicative of differentiation towards either a fibrocartilaginous or hyaline cartilage-like phenotype. Alginate and agarose hydrogels best supported the development of hyaline-like cartilage, as evident by the development of a tissue staining predominantly for type II collagen. In contrast, GelMA and BioINK (a PEGMA based hydrogel) supported the development of a more fibrocartilage-like tissue, as evident by the development of a tissue containing both type I and type II collagen. GelMA demonstrated superior printability, generating structures with greater fidelity, followed by the alginate and agarose bioinks. High levels of MSC viability were observed in all bioinks post-printing (∼80%). Finally we demonstrate that it is possible to engineer mechanically reinforced hydrogels with high cell viability by co-depositing a hydrogel bioink with polycaprolactone filaments, generating composites with bulk compressive moduli comparable to articular cartilage. This study demonstrates the importance of the choice of bioink when bioprinting different cartilaginous tissues for musculoskeletal applications.
Alginate is a commonly used bioink in 3D bioprinting. Matrix stiffness is a key determinant of mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) differentiation, suggesting that modulation of alginate bioink mechanical properties represents a promising strategy to spatially regulate MSC fate within bioprinted tissues. In this study, we define a printability window for alginate of differing molecular weight (MW) by systematically varying the ratio of alginate to ionic crosslinker within the bioink. We demonstrate that the MW of such alginate bioinks, as well as the choice of ionic crosslinker, can be tuned to control the mechanical properties (Young’s Modulus, Degradation Rate) of 3D printed constructs. These same factors are also shown to influence growth factor release from the bioinks. We next explored if spatially modulating the stiffness of 3D bioprinted hydrogels could be used to direct MSC fate inside printed tissues. Using the same alginate and crosslinker, but varying the crosslinking ratio, it is possible to bioprint constructs with spatially varying mechanical microenvironments. Moreover, these spatially varying microenvironments were found to have a significant effect on the fate of MSCs within the alginate bioinks, with stiffer regions of the bioprinted construct preferentially supporting osteogenesis over adipogenesis.
The ability to print defined patterns of cells and extracellular-matrix components in three dimensions has enabled the engineering of simple biological tissues, however bioprinting functional solid organs is beyond the capabilities of current biofabrication technologies. An alternative approach would be to bioprint the developmental precursor to an adult organ, using this engineered rudiment as a template for subsequent organogenesis in vivo. Here we demonstrate that developmentally inspired hypertrophic cartilage templates can be engineered in vitro using stem cells within a supporting gamma-irradiated alginate bioink incorporating Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) adhesion peptides.Furthermore, these soft tissue templates can be reinforced with a network of printed polycaprolactone fibres, resulting in a ~350 fold increase in construct compressive modulus providing the necessary stiffness to implant such immature cartilaginous rudiments into load bearing locations. As a proofof-principal, multiple-tool biofabrication was used to engineer a mechanically reinforced cartilaginous template mimicking the geometry of a vertebral body, which in vivo supported the development of a vascularized bone organ containing trabecular-like endochondral bone with a supporting marrow structure. Such developmental engineering approaches could be applied to the biofabrication of other solid organs by bioprinting pre-cursors that have the capacity to mature into their adult counterparts over time in vivo.3
The objective of this study was to investigate the hypothesis that the application of dynamic compression following transforming growth factor-beta3 (TGF-beta3) induced differentiation will further enhance chondrogenesis of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Porcine MSCs were encapsulated in agarose hydrogels and cultured in a chemically defined medium with TGF-beta3 (10 ng/mL). Dynamic compression (1 Hz, 10% strain, 1 h/day) was initiated at either day 0 or day 21 and continued until day 42 of culture; with TGF-beta3 withdrawn from some groups at day 21. Biochemical and mechanical properties of the MSC-seeded constructs were evaluated up to day 42. The application of dynamic compression from day 0 inhibited chondrogenesis of MSCs. This inhibition of chondrogenesis in response to dynamic compression was not observed if MSC-seeded constructs first underwent 21 days of chondrogenic differentiation in the presence of TGF-beta3. Spatial differences in sGAG accumulation in response to both TGF-beta3 stimulation and dynamic compression were observed within the constructs. sGAG release from the engineered construct into the surrounding culture media was also dependent on TGF-beta3 stimulation, but was not effected by dynamic compression. Continued supplementation with TGF-beta3 appeared to be a more potent chondrogenic stimulus than the application of 1 h of daily dynamic compression following cytokine initiated differentiation. In the context of cartilage tissue engineering, the results of this study suggest that MSC seeded constructs should be first allowed to undergo chondrogenesis in vitro prior to implantation in a load bearing environment.
Significant progress has been made in the field of cartilage and bone tissue engineering over the last two decades. As a result, there is real promise that strategies to regenerate rather than replace damaged or diseased bones and joints will one day reach the clinic however, a number of major challenges must still be addressed before this becomes a reality. These include vascularization in the context of large bone defect repair, engineering complex gradients for bone‐soft tissue interface regeneration and recapitulating the stratified zonal architecture present in many adult tissues such as articular cartilage. Tissue engineered constructs typically lack such spatial complexity in cell types and tissue organization, which may explain their relatively limited success to date. This has led to increased interest in bioprinting technologies in the field of musculoskeletal tissue engineering. The additive, layer by layer nature of such biofabrication strategies makes it possible to generate zonal distributions of cells, matrix and bioactive cues in 3D. The adoption of biofabrication technology in musculoskeletal tissue engineering may therefore make it possible to produce the next generation of biological implants capable of treating a range of conditions. Here, advances in bioprinting for cartilage and osteochondral tissue engineering are reviewed.
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