To maintain functionality during in situ vascular regeneration, the rate of implant degradation should be closely balanced by neo-tissue formation. It is unknown, however, how the implant’s functionality is affected by the degradation of the polymers it is composed of. We therefore examined the macro- and microscopic features as well as the mechanical performance of vascular scaffolds upon in vitro enzymatic degradation. Three candidate biomaterials with supramolecularly interacting bis-urea (BU) hard blocks (‘slow-degrading’ polycarbonate-BU (PC-BU), ‘intermediate-degrading’ polycarbonate-ester-BU (PC(e)-BU), and ‘fast-degrading’ polycaprolactone-ester-BU (PCL-BU)) were synthesized and electrospun into microporous scaffolds. These materials possess a sequence-controlled macromolecular structure, so their susceptibility to degradation is tunable by controlling the nature of the polymer backbone. The scaffolds were incubated in lipase and monitored for changes in physical, chemical, and mechanical properties. Remarkably, comparing PC-BU to PC(e)-BU, we observed that small changes in macromolecular structure led to significant differences in degradation kinetics. All three scaffold types degraded via surface erosion, which was accompanied by fiber swelling for PC-BU scaffolds, and some bulk degradation and a collapsing network for PCL-BU scaffolds. For the PC-BU and PC(e)-BU scaffolds this resulted in retention of mechanical properties, whereas for the PCL-BU scaffolds this resulted in stiffening. Our in vitro study demonstrates that vascular scaffolds, electrospun from sequence-controlled supramolecular materials with varying ester contents, not only display different susceptibilities to degradation, but also degrade via different mechanisms.
Statement of Significance
One of the key elements to successfully engineer vascular tissues in situ, is to balance the rate of implant degradation and neo-tissue formation. Due to their tunable properties, supramolecular polymers can be customized into attractive biomaterials for vascular tissue engineering. Here, we have exploited this tunability and prepared a set of polymers with different susceptibility to degradation. The polymers, which were electrospun into microporous scaffolds, displayed not only different susceptibilities to degradation, but also obeyed different degradation mechanisms. This study illustrates how the class of supramolecular polymers continues to represent a promising group of materials for tissue engineering approaches.
Full Access Link: Acta Biomaterialia