The principle challenge for engineering viable, cell-laden hydrogel constructs of clinically-relevant size, is rapid vascularization, in order to moderate the finite capacity of passive nutrient diffusion. A multiscale vascular approach, with large open channels and bulk microcapillaries may be an admissible approach to accelerate this process, promoting overall pre-vascularization for long-term viability of constructs. However, the limited availability of bioinks that possess suitable characteristics that support both fabrication of complex architectures and formation of microcapillaries, remains a barrier to advancement in this space. In this study, gelatin-norbornene (Gel-NOR) is investigated as a vascular bioink with tailorable physico-mechanical properties, which promoted the self-assembly of human stromal and endothelial cells into microcapillaries, as well as being compatible with extrusion and lithography-based biofabrication modalities. Gel-NOR constructs containing self-assembled microcapillaries are successfully biofabricated with varying physical architecture (fiber diameter, spacing, and orientation). Both channel sizes and cell types affect the overall structural changes of the printed constructs, where cross-signaling between both human stromal and endothelial cells may be responsible for the reduction in open channel lumen observed over time. Overall, this work highlights an exciting three-way interplay between bioink formulation, construct design, and cell-mediated response that can be exploited towards engineering vascular tissues.
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