Customized tracheal design using 3D printing of a polymer hydrogel: influence of UV laser cross-linking on mechanical properties

Cristovão, Ana Filipa, David Sousa, Filipe Silvestre, Inês Ropio, Ana Gaspar, Célia Henriques, Alexandre Velhinho, Ana Catarina Baptista, Miguel Faustino, and Isabel Ferreira. "Customized tracheal design using 3D printing of a polymer hydrogel: influence of UV laser cross-linking on mechanical properties." 3D Printing in Medicine 5 (2019): 12.


The use of 3D printing of hydrogels as a cell support in bio-printing of cartilage, organs and tissue has attracted much research interest. For cartilage applications, hydrogels as soft materials must show some degree of rigidity, which can be achieved by photo- or chemical polymerization. In this work, we combined chemical and UV laser polymeric cross-linkage to control the mechanical properties of 3D printed hydrogel blends. Since there are few studies on UV laser cross-linking combined with 3D printing of hydrogels, the work here reported offered many challenges.

Polyethylene glycol diacrylate (PEGDA), sodium alginate (SA) and calcium sulphate (CaSO4) polymer paste containing riboflavin (vitamin B2) and triethanolamine (TEOHA) as a biocompatible photoinitiator was printed in an extrusion 3D plotter using a coupled UV laser. The influence of the laser power on the mechanical properties of the printed samples was then examined in unconfined compression stress-strain tests of 1 × 1 × 1 cm3 sized samples. To evaluate the adhesion of the material between printed layers, compression measurements were performed along the parallel and perpendicular directions to the printing lines.

At a laser density of 70 mW/cm2, Young’s modulus was approximately 6 MPa up to a maximum compression of 20% in the elastic regime for both the parallel and perpendicular measurements. These values were within the range of biological cartilage values. Cytotoxicity tests performed with Vero cells confirmed the cytocompatibility.

We printed a partial tracheal model using optimized printing conditions and proved that the materials and methods developed may be useful for printing of organ models to support surgery or even to produce customized tracheal implants, after further optimization.

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