Direct Writing of Three-Dimensional Polymer Scaffolds Using Colloidal Gels


  • This work was supported through Vaxdesign, Inc. under Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract (W81XWH-04-C-0139). The authors thank H. Gappa-Fahlenkamp for the assistance with confocal microscopy, Gary Sui for help with software development, and M. N. Nguyen for assistance with laser scaffold sectioning.


Polymer scaffolds intended to provide a substrate for cell attachment and proliferation benefit if the geometric architecture, mechanical properties, and surface chemistry are controllable within the range applicable for the target tissue. Such scaffolds may be made bioinductive through the inclusion of surface proteins and release of growth factors. Furthermore, the polymer support may be formed of biodegradable polymers for use as tissue-engineering scaffolds. In this study, a new scaffold-fabrication technique based on the direct writing of polymer colloidal-gel-based inks is described. The colloidal approach allows for the modular design of inks where the structure and composition of the colloidal particles, surface adsorbed molecules, and dissolved species may be easily controlled. Polyacrylate latex particles are formulated into colloidal gels by using a thermoreversible gel-forming poly(ethylene oxide)–poly(propylene oxide) block-copolymer adsorbed layer. The resulting colloidal gels are laced with the model protein bovine serum albumin (BSA) either dissolved in the solvent phase of the ink or dispersed in chitosan nanoparticles as a second colloid. Ink development and rheological characterization are presented along with demonstration of assembly of mesoporous scaffolds. After assembly and drying of the scaffold structure, the drug-release kinetics are measured upon re-exposure to an aqueous environment. Protein activity appears to be unaffected by the processing route of these scaffolds. Finally, the assembly of heterogeneous scaffolds is demonstrated to illustrate the possibilities for staged or heterogeneous drug release. This approach to scaffold fabrication offers a new route for scaffold assembly from water-insoluble polymers while allowing the inclusion of sensitive biomolecules without risk of denaturation.