Robocasting nanocomposite scaffolds of poly(caprolactone)/hydroxyapatite incorporating modified carbon nanotubes for hard tissue reconstruction.
Nanocomposite scaffolds with tailored 3D pore configuration are promising candidates for the reconstruction of bone. Here we fabricated novel nanocomposite bone scaffolds through robocasting. Poly(caprolactone) (PCL)-hydroxyapatite (HA) slurry containing ionically modified carbon nanotubes (imCNTs) was robotic-dispensed and structured layer-by-layer into macrochanneled 3D scaffolds under adjusted processing conditions. Homogeneous dispersion of imCNTs (0.2 wt % relative to PCL-HA) was achieved in acetone, aiding in the preparation of PCL-HA-imCNTs slurry with good mixing property. Incorporation of imCNTs into PCL-HA composition significantly improved the compressive strength and elastic modulus of the robotic-dispensed scaffolds (~1.5-fold in strength and ~2.5-fold in elastic modulus). When incubated in simulated body fluid (SBF), PCL-HA-imCNT nanocomposite scaffold induced substantial mineralization of apatite in a similar manner to the PCL-HA scaffold, which was contrasted in pure PCL scaffold. MC3T3-E1 cell culture on the scaffolds demonstrated that cell proliferation levels were significantly higher in both PCL-HA-imCNT and PCL-HA than in pure PCL, and no significant difference was found between the nanocomposite scaffolds. When the PCL-HA-imCNT scaffold was implanted into a rat subcutaneous tissue for 4 weeks, soft fibrous tissues with neo-blood vessels formed well in the pore channels of the scaffolds without any significant inflammatory signs. Tissue reactions in PCL-HA-imCNT scaffold were similar to those in PCL-HA scaffold, suggesting incorporated imCNT did not negate the beneficial biological roles of HA. While more long-term in vivo research in bone defect models is needed to confirm clinical availability, our results suggest robotic-dispensed PCL-HA-imCNT nanocomposite scaffolds can be considered promising new candidate matrices for bone regeneration.