Implantable devices need specific tailored surface morphologies and chemistries to interact with the living systems or to actively induce a biological response also by the release of drugs or proteins. These customized requirements foster technologies that can be implemented in additive manufacturing systems. Here, we present a novel approach based on spraying processes that allow to control separately topographic features in the submicron range (∼60 nm to 2 μm), ammine or carboxylic chemistry, and fluorophore release even on temperature-sensitive biodegradable polymers such as polycaprolactone (PCL). We developed a two-steps process with a first deposition of 220 nm silica and poly(lactic- co-glycolide) (PLGA) fluorescent nanoparticles by aerosol followed by the deposition of a fixing layer by an atmospheric pressure plasma jet (APPJ). The nanoparticles can be used to create the nanoroughness and to include active molecule release, while the capping layer ensures stability and the chemical functionalities. The process is enabled by a novel APPJ which allows deposition rates of 10-20 nm·s-1 at temperatures lower than 50 °C using argon as the process gas. This approach was assessed on titanium alloys for dental implants and on PCL films. The surfaces were characterized by Fourier transform infrared, atomic force microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Titanium alloys were tested with the preosteoblast murine cells line, while the PCL film was tested with fibroblasts. Cell behavior was evaluated by viability and adhesion assays, protein adsorption, cell proliferation, focal adhesion formation, and SEM. The release of a fluorophore molecule was assessed in the cell growing media, simulating a drug release. Osteoblast adhesion on the plasma-treated materials increased by 20% with respect to commercial titanium alloy implants. Fibroblast adhesion increased by a 100% compared to smooth PCL substrates. The release of the fluorophore by the dissolution of the PLGA nanoparticles was verified, and the integrity of the encapsulated drug model was confirmed.
Keywords: active molecule release; atmospheric pressure plasma; chemical functionalization; nanostructures; scaffolds.