Background: Cell-scaffold based therapies have the potential to offer an efficient osseous regenerative treatment and PCL has been commonly used as a scaffold, however its effectiveness is limited by poor cellular retention properties. This may be improved through a porous scaffold structure with efficient pore arrangement to increase cell entrapment. To facilitate this, melt electrowriting (MEW) has been developed as a technique able to fabricate cell-supporting scaffolds with precise micro pore sizes via predictable fibre deposition. The effect of the scaffold's architecture on cellular gene expression however has not been fully elucidated.
Methods: The design and fabrication of three different uniform pore structures (250, 500 and 750 μm), as well as two offset scaffolds with different layout of fibres (30 and 50%) and one complex scaffold with three gradient pore sizes of 250-500-750 μm, was performed by using MEW. Calcium phosphate modification was applied to enhance the PCL scaffold hydrophilicity and bone inductivity prior to seeding with osteoblasts which were then maintained in culture for up to 30 days. Over this time, osteoblast cell morphology, matrix mineralisation, osteogenic gene expression and collagen production were assessed.
Results: The in vitro findings revealed that the gradient scaffold significantly increased alkaline phosphatase activity in the attached osteoblasts while matrix mineralization was higher in the 50% offset scaffolds. The expression of osteocalcin and osteopontin genes were also upregulated compared to other osteogenic genes following 30 days culture, particularly in offset and gradient scaffold structures. Immunostaining showed significant expression of osteocalcin in offset and gradient scaffold structures.
Conclusions: This study demonstrated that the heterogenous pore sizes in gradient and fibre offset PCL scaffolds prepared using MEW significantly improved the osteogenic potential of osteoblasts and hence may provide superior outcomes in bone regeneration applications.