High-resolution direct 3D printed PLGA scaffolds: print and shrink.

PMID 25514829


Direct three-dimensional printing (3DP) produces the final part composed of the powder and binder used in fabrication. An advantage of direct 3DP is control over both the microarchitecture and macroarchitecture. Prints which use porogen incorporated in the powder result in high pore interconnectivity, uniform porosity, and defined pore size after leaching. The main limitations of direct 3DP for synthetic polymers are the use of organic solvents which can dissolve polymers used in most printheads and limited resolution due to unavoidable spreading of the binder droplet after contact with the powder. This study describes a materials processing strategy to eliminate the use of organic solvent during the printing process and to improve 3DP resolution by shrinking with a non-solvent plasticizer. Briefly, poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) powder was prepared by emulsion solvent evaporation to form polymer microparticles. The printing powder was composed of polymer microparticles dry mixed with sucrose particles. After printing with a water-based liquid binder, the polymer microparticles were fused together to form a network by solvent vapor in an enclosed vessel. The sucrose is removed by leaching and the resulting scaffold is placed in a solution of methanol. The methanol acts as a non-solvent plasticizer and allows for polymer chain rearrangement and efficient packing of polymer chains. The resulting volumetric shrinkage is ∼80% at 90% methanol. A complex shape (honey-comb) was designed, printed, and shrunken to demonstrate isotropic shrinking with the ability to reach a final resolution of ∼400 μm. The effect of type of alcohol (i.e. methanol or ethanol), concentration of alcohol, and temperature on volumetric shrinking was studied. This study presents a novel materials processing strategy to overcome the main limitations of direct 3DP to produce high resolution PLGA scaffolds.