Hydrogels are useful materials as scaffolds for tissue engineering applications. Using hydrogels with additive manufacturing techniques has typically required the addition of techniques such as cross-linking or printing in sacrificial materials that negatively impact tissue growth to remedy inconsistencies in print fidelity. Thus, there is a need for bioinks that can directly print cell-laden constructs. In this study, agarose-based hydrogels commonly used for cartilage tissue engineering were compared to Pluronic, a hydrogel with established printing capabilities. Moreover, new material mixtures were developed for bioprinting by combining alginate and agarose. We compared mechanical and rheological properties, including yield stress, storage modulus, and shear thinning, as well as construct shape fidelity to assess their potential as a bioink for cell-based tissue engineering. The rheological properties and printability of agarose-alginate gels were statistically similar to those of Pluronic for all tests (p > 0.05). Alginate-agarose composites prepared with 5% w/v (3:2 agarose to alginate ratio) demonstrated excellent cell viability over a 28-day culture period (>∼70% cell survival at day 28) as well matrix production over the same period. Therefore, agarose-alginate mixtures showed the greatest potential as an effective bioink for additive manufacturing of biological materials for cartilage tissue engineering.
Keywords: 3D printing; additive manufacturing; agarose; alginate; bioinks; bioprinting; hydrogels.