Medium-chain length polyhydroxyalkanoates (MCL-PHAs) have demonstrated exceptional properties for cardiac tissue engineering (CTE) applications. Despite prior work on MCL-PHA/polycaprolactone (PCL) blends, optimal scaffold production and use as an alternative delivery route for controlled release of seeded cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs) in CTE applications in vivo has been lacking. We present herein applicability of MCL-PHA/PCL (95/5 wt %) blends fabricated as thin films with an improved performance compared to the neat MCL-PHA. Polymer characterization confirmed the chemical structure and composition of the synthesized scaffolds, while thermal, wettability, and mechanical properties were also investigated and compared in neat and porous counterparts. In vitro cytocompatibility studies were performed using perfluorocrown-ether-nanoparticle-labeled murine CPCs and studied using confocal microscopy and 19F magnetic resonance spectroscopy and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Seeded scaffolds were implanted and studied in the postmortem murine heart in situ and in two additional C57BL/6 mice in vivo (using single-layered and double-layered scaffolds) and imaged immediately after and at 7 days postimplantation. Superior MCL-PHA/PCL scaffold performance has been demonstrated compared to MCL-PHA through experimental comparisons of (a) morphological data using scanning electron microscopy and (b) contact angle measurements attesting to improved CPC adhesion, (c) in vitro confocal microscopy showing increased SC proliferative capacity, and (d) mechanical testing that elicited good overall responses. In vitro MRI results justify the increased seeding density, increased in vitro MRI signal, and improved MRI visibility in vivo, in the double-layered compared to the single-layered scaffolds. Histological evaluations [bright-field, cytoplasmic (Atto647) and nuclear (4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole) stains] performed in conjunction with confocal microscopy imaging attest to CPC binding within the scaffold, subsequent release and migration to the neighboring myocardium, and increased retention in the murine myocardium in the case of the double-layered scaffold. Thus, MCL-PHA/PCL blends possess tremendous potential for controlled delivery of CPCs and for maximizing possible regeneration in myocardial infarction.
Keywords: 19F magnetic resonance spectroscopy/imaging; cardiac progenitor stem cells; cardiac regeneration; polycaprolactone; polyhydroxyalkanoates; polymer blends; polymer scaffolds.