Abstract: The mechanical properties of hydrogels used in biomaterials and tissue engineering applications are critical determinants of their functionality. Despite the recent rise of additive manufacturing, and specifically extrusion-based bioprinting, as a prominent biofabrication method, comprehensive studies investigating the mechanical behavior of extruded constructs remain lacking. To address this gap in knowledge, we compared the mechanical properties and swelling properties of crosslinked gelatin-based hydrogels prepared by conventional molding techniques or by 3D bioprinting using a BioBots Beta pneumatic extruder. A preliminary characterization of the impact of bioprinting parameters on construct properties revealed that both Young’s modulus and optimal extruding pressure increased with polymer content, and that printing resolution increased with both printing speed and nozzle gauge. High viability (>95%) of encapsulated NIH 3T3 fibroblasts confirmed the cytocompatibility of the construct preparation process. Interestingly, the Young’s moduli of extruded and molded constructs were not different, but extruded constructs did show increases in both the rate and extent of time-dependent mechanical behavior observed in creep. Despite similar polymer densities, extruded hydrogels showed greater swelling over time compared to molded hydrogels, suggesting that differences in creep behavior derived from differences in microstructure and fluid flow. Because of the crucial roles of time-dependent mechanical properties, fluid flow, and swelling properties on tissue and cell behavior, these findings highlight the need for greater consideration of the effects of the extrusion process on hydrogel properties.

N Ersumo, C E Witherel and K L Spiller. “Differences in Time-Dependent Mechanical Properties Between Extruded and Molded Hydrogels,” Biofabrication. 8(3).