A provisional patent application has been filed on this new material, which will be able to generate multiple types of human soft tissues, including skin, skeletal muscles, blood vessels and heart muscles. “Soft tissue bioprinting suffers from significant challenges as the hydrogels were often brittle and unstretchable and could not mimic the mechanical behavior of human soft tissues,” said Yi Hong, UTA professor of bioengineering and leader of the project. “To overcome these challenges, we developed a simple system using a single cross-linking mechanism activated by visible light to achieve a highly elastic and robust, biodegradable and biocompatible hydrogel for cell printing,” Hong added.
A tri-block biodegradable polymer of polycaprolactone – poly (ethylene glycol) – polycaprolactone (PCL-PEG-PCL) with two end groups of acrylates and a visible-light water-soluble initiator forms this hydrogel for cell printing. “Polycaprolactone and poly (ethylene glycol) are already widely used in Food and Drug Administration – approved devices and implants, which should facilitate quick translation of the material into pre-clinical and clinical trials in the future,” Hong said. “The tunability of the mechanical properties of this hydrogel to match different soft tissues is a real advantage,” he added.
Michael Cho, UTA chair of bioengineering, congratulated Hong and his colleagues on this research. “These colleagues may have created a new way of thinking about hydrogel bio-printing research,” Cho said. “This work is also critical in advancing UTA’s strategic theme of health and the human condition through cross-disciplinary work.”