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Sanz-Fraile, H., Amoros, S., Mendizabal, I., Galvez-Monton, C., Prat-Vidal, C., Bayes-Genis, A., Navajas, D., Farre, R., Otero, J., (2020). Silk-reinforced collagen hydrogels with raised multiscale stiffness for mesenchymal cells 3D culture Tissue Engineering - Part A 26, (5-6), 358-370

Type I collagen hydrogels are of high interest in tissue engineering. With the evolution of 3D bioprinting technologies, a high number of collagen-based scaffolds have been reported for the development of 3D cell cultures. A recent proposal was to mix collagen with silk fibroin derived from Bombyx mori silkworm. Nevertheless, due to the difficulties in the preparation and the characteristics of the protein, several problems such as phase separation and collagen denaturation appear during the procedure. Therefore, the common solution is to diminish the concentration of collagen although in that way the most biologically relevant component is reduced. In this study, we present a new, simple, and effective method to develop a collagen-silk hybrid hydrogel with high collagen concentration and with increased stiffness approaching that of natural tissues, which could be of high interest for the development of cardiac patches for myocardial regeneration and for preconditioning of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to improve their therapeutic potential. Sericin in the silk was preserved by using a physical solubilizing procedure that results in a preserved fibrous structure of type I collagen, as shown by ultrastructural imaging. The macro- and micromechanical properties of the hybrid hydrogels measured by tensile stretch and atomic force microscopy, respectively, showed a more than twofold stiffening than the collagen-only hydrogels. Rheological measurements showed improved printability properties for the developed biomaterial. The suitability of the hydrogels for 3D cell culture was assessed by 3D bioprinting bone marrow-derived MSCs cultured within the scaffolds. The result was a biomaterial with improved printability characteristics that better resembled the mechanical properties of natural soft tissues while preserving biocompatibility owing to the high concentration of collagen. In this study, we report the development of silk microfiber-reinforced type I collagen hydrogels for 3D bioprinting and cell culture. In contrast with previously reported studies, a novel physical method allowed the preservation of the silk sericin protein. Hydrogels were stable, showed no phase separation between the biomaterials, and they presented improved printability. An increase between two- and threefold of the multiscale stiffness of the scaffolds was achieved with no need of using additional crosslinkers or complex methods, which could be of high relevance for cardiac patches development and for preconditioning mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) for therapeutic applications. We demonstrate that bone marrow-derived MSCs can be effectively bioprinted and 3D cultured within the stiffened structures.

Keywords: 3D bioprinting, Collagen, Hydrogel, Mesenchymal cells, Multiscale mechanics, Silk