Development of tunable cell-laden bioinks

J. Kinsella, T. Jiang, G. Mungia-Lopez, J. Kort-Mascort, S. Flores-Torres
McGill University,

Keywords: bioprinting, in vitro models, tissue engineering, cancer bioengineering, hydrogels, alginate, gelatin, decellularized, extracellular matrix


Tunable bioprinting materials are capable of creating a broad spectrum of physiological mimicking 3D models enabling in vitro studies that more accurately resemble in vivo conditions. Tailoring the material properties of the bioink such that it achieves both bioprintability and biomimicry remains a key challenge. Here we report the development of engineered composite hydrogels consisting of gelatin and alginate components. The composite gels are demonstrated as a cell-laden bioink to build 3D bioprinted in vitro breast tumor models. The initial mechanical characteristics of each composite hydrogel are correlated to cell proliferation rates and cell spheroid morphology spanning month long culture conditions. MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells show gel formulation-dependency on the rates and frequency of self-assembly into multicellular tumor spheroids (MCTSs). Hydrogel compositions comprised of decreasing alginate concentrations, and increasing gelatin concentrations, result in gels that are mechanically soft and contain a greater number of cell-adhesion moieties driving the development of large MCTS; conversely gels containing increasing alginate, and decreasing gelatin concentrations are mechanically stiffer, with fewer cell-adhesion moieties present in the composite gels yielding smaller and less viable MCTS. These composite hydrogels can be used in the biofabrication of tunable in vitro systems that mimic both the mechanical and biochemical properties of the native tumor stroma. To further the development of printable biomimetic gels we have developed a method to extract decellularized extracellular matrix (dECM) molecules that can be integrated with rheological modifiers resulting in printed structures that are stable for periods of up to 30 days in physiological conditions.