Bioinspired Processing: Complex Coacervates as Versatile Inks for 3D Bioprinting
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3D bioprinting is a powerful fabrication technique in biomedical engineering, which is currently limited by the number of available materials that meet all physicochemical and cytocompatibility requirements for biomaterial inks. Inspired by the key role of coacervations in the extrusion and spinning of many natural materials, hyaluronic acid-chitosan complex coacervates are proposed here as tunable biomaterial inks. Complex coacervates are obtained through an associative liquid-liquid phase separation driven by electrostatic attraction between oppositely charged macromolecules. They offer bioactive properties as well as facile modulation of their mechanical properties through mild physicochemical changes in the environment, rendering them attractive for 3D bioprinting. Fine-tuning the salt concentration, pH, and molecular weight of the constituent polymers results in biomaterial inks that are printable in air and water. The biomaterial ink, initially a viscoelastic fluid, transitions into a viscoelastic solid upon printing due to dehydration (for printing in air) or due to a change in pH and ionic composition (for printing in water). Consequently, scaffolds printed using the complex coacervate inks are stable without the need for post-printing processing. Cell culture scaffolds fabricated in this way are cytocompatible and show long-term topological stability. These results pave the way to a new class of easy-to-handle tunable biomaterials for biofabrication.