Characterization of polycaprolactone nanohydroxyapatite composites with tunable degradability suitable for indirect printing

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Degradable bone implants are designed to foster the complete regeneration of natural tissue after large-scale loss trauma. Polycaprolactone (PCL) and hydroxyapatite (HA) composites are promising scaffold materials with superior mechanical and osteoinductive properties compared to the single materials. However, producing three-dimensional (3D) structures with high HA content as well as tuneable degradability remains a challenge. To address this issue and create homogeneously distributed PCL-nanoHA (nHA) scaffolds with tuneable degradation rates through both PCL molecular weight and nHA concentration, we conducted a detailed characterisation and comparison of a range of PCL-nHA composites across three molecular weight PCLs (14, 45, and 80 kDa) and with nHA content up to 30% w/w. In general, the addition of nHA results in an increase of viscosity for the PCL-nHA composites but has little effect on their compressive modulus. Importantly, we observe that the addition of nHA increases the rate of degradation compared to PCL alone. We show that the 45 and 80 kDa PCL-nHA groups can be fabricated via indirect 3D printing and have homogenously distributed nHA even after fabrication. Finally, the cytocompatibility of the composite materials is evaluated for the 45 and 80 kDa groups, with the results showing no significant change in cell number compared to the control. In conclusion, our analyses unveil several features that are crucial for processing the composite material into a tissue engineered implant.

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