Assessing bioink shape fidelity to aid material development in 3D bioprinting
During extrusion-based bioprinting, the deposited bioink filaments are subjected to deformations, such as collapse of overhanging filaments, which compromises the ability to stack several layers of bioink, and fusion between adjacent filaments, which compromises the resolution and maintenance of a desired pore structure. When developing new bioinks, approaches to assess their shape fidelity after printing would be beneficial to evaluate the degree of deformation of the deposited filament and to estimate how similar the final printed construct would be to the design. However, shape fidelity has been prevalently assessed qualitatively through visual inspection after printing, hampering the direct comparison of the printability of different bioinks. In this technical note, we propose a quantitative evaluation for shape fidelity of bioinks based on testing the filament collapse on overhanging structures and the filament fusion of parallel printed strands. Both tests were applied on a hydrogel platform based on poloxamer 407 and poly(ethylene glycol) blends, providing a library of hydrogels with different yield stresses. The presented approach is an easy way to assess bioink shape fidelity, applicable to any filament-based bioprinting system and able to quantitatively evaluate this aspect of printability, based on the degree of deformation of the printed filament. In addition, we built a simple theoretical model that relates filament collapse with bioink yield stress. The results of both shape fidelity tests underline the role of yield stress as one of the parameters influencing the printability of a bioink. The presented quantitative evaluation will allow for reproducible comparisons between different bioink platforms.
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