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Noninvasive Three-Dimensional In Situ and In Vivo Characterization of Bioprinted Hydrogel Scaffolds Using the X‑ray Propagation-Based Imaging Technique

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posted on 27.05.2021, 00:17 by Liqun Ning, Ning Zhu, An Smith, Ajay Rajaram, Huishu Hou, Subashree Srinivasan, Fatemeh Mohabatpour, Lihong He, Adam Mclnnes, Vahid Serpooshan, Petros Papagerakis, Xiongbiao Chen
Hydrogel-based three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting has been illustrated as promising to fabricate tissue scaffolds for regenerative medicine. Notably, bioprinting of hydrated and soft 3D hydrogel scaffolds with desired structural properties has not been fully achieved so far. Moreover, due to the limitations of current imaging techniques, assessment of bioprinted hydrogel scaffolds is still challenging, yet still essential for scaffold design, fabrication, and longitudinal studies. This paper presents our study on the bioprinting of hydrogel scaffolds and on the development of a novel noninvasive imaging method, based on synchrotron propagation-based imaging with computed tomography (SR-PBI-CT), to study the structural properties of hydrogel scaffolds and their responses to environmental stimuli both in situ and in vivo. Hydrogel scaffolds designed with varying structural patterns were successfully bioprinted through rigorous printing process regulations and then imaged by SR-PBI-CT within physiological environments. Subjective to controllable compressive loadings, the structural responses of scaffolds were visualized and characterized in terms of the structural deformation caused by the compressive loadings. Hydrogel scaffolds were later implanted in rats as nerve conduits for SR-PBI-CT imaging, and the obtained images illustrated their high phase contrast and were further processed for the 3D structure reconstruction and quantitative characterization. Our results show that the scaffold design and printing conditions play important roles in the printed scaffold structure and mechanical properties. More importantly, our obtained images from SR-PBI-CT allow us to visualize the details of hydrogel 3D structures with high imaging resolution. It demonstrates unique capability of this imaging technique for noninvasive, in situ characterization of 3D hydrogel structures pre- and post-implantation in diverse physiological milieus. The established imaging platform can therefore be utilized as a robust, high-precision tool for the design and longitudinal studies of hydrogel scaffold in tissue engineering.

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