Bioactive Cellulose Nanocrystal Reinforced 3D Printable Poly(epsilon-caprolactone) Nanocomposite for Bone Tissue Engineering

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Virginia Tech


Polymeric bone scaffolds are a promising tissue engineering approach for the repair of critical-size bone defects. Porous three-dimensional (3D) scaffolds play an essential role as templates to guide new tissue formation. However, there are critical challenges arising from the poor mechanical properties and low bioactivity of bioresorbable polymers, such as poly(epsilon-caprolactone) (PCL) in bone tissue engineering applications. This research investigates the potential use of cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) as multi-functional additives that enhance the mechanical properties and increase the biomineralization rate of PCL. To this end, an in vitro biomineralization study of both sulfuric acid hydrolyzed-CNCs (SH-CNCs) and surface oxidized-CNCs (SO-CNCs) has been performed in simulated body fluid in order to evaluate the bioactivity of the surface functional groups, sulfate and carboxyl groups, respectively. PCL nanocomposites were prepared with different SO-CNC contents and the chemical/physical properties of the nanocomposites were analyzed. 3D porous scaffolds with fully interconnected pores and well-controlled pore sizes were fabricated from the PCL nanocomposites with a 3D printer. The mechanical stability of the scaffolds were studied using creep test under dry and submersion conditions. Lastly, the biocompatibility of CNCs and 3D printed porous scaffolds were assessed in vitro.

The carboxyl groups on the surface of SO-CNCs provided a significantly improved calcium ion binding ability which could play an important role in the biomineralization (bioactivity) by induction of mineral formation for bone tissue engineering applications. In addition, the mechanical properties of porous PCL nanocomposite scaffolds were pronouncedly reinforced by incorporation of SO-CNCs. Both the compressive modulus and creep resistance of the PCL scaffolds were enhanced either in dry or in submersion conditions at 37 degrees Celsius. Lastly, the biocompatibility study demonstrated that both the CNCs and material fabrication processes (e.g., PCL nanocomposites and 3D printing) were not toxic to the preosteoblasts (MC3T3 cells). Also, the SO-CNCs showed a positive effect on biomineralization of PCL scaffolds (i.e., accelerated calcium or mineral deposits on the surface of the scaffolds) during in vitro study. Overall, the SO-CNCs could play a critical role in the development of scaffold materials as a potential candidate for reinforcing nanofillers in bone tissue engineering applications.



cellulose nanocrystal, poly(epsilon-caprolactone), nanocomposite, 3D printing, biomineralization, porous bone scaffold, mechanical performance, biocompatibility