Get the full paper here: Biomacromolecules, 17, 905 (2016).
The merging of defined nanoscale building blocks with advanced additive manufacturing techniques is of eminent importance for the preparation of multiscale and highly functional materials with de novo designed hierarchical architectures. Here, we demonstrate that hydrogels of cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) can be processed into complex shapes, and used as a sacrificial template to prepare freestanding cell constructs. We showcase our approach for the fabrication of hollow fibers using a controlled extrusion through a circular die into a coagulation bath. The dimensions of the hollow fibers are tunable, and the final tubes combine the nanofibrillar porosity of the CNF hydrogel with a submillimeter wall thickness and centimeter-scale length provided by the additive manufacturing technique. We demonstrate that covalent and supramolecular cross-linking of the CNFs can be used to tailor the mechanical properties of the hydrogel tubes within 1 order of magnitude and in an attractive range for the mechanosensation of cells. The resulting tubes are highly biocompatible and allow for the growth of mouse fibroblasts into confluent cell layers in their inner lumen. A detailed screening of several cellulases enables degradation of the scaffolding, temporary CNF hydrogel tube in a quick and highly cell-friendly way, and allows the isolation of coherent cell tubes. We foresee that the growing capabilities of hydrogel printing techniques in combination with the attractive features of CNFs—sustainable, globally abundant, biocompatible and enzymatically degradable—will allow making plant-based biomaterials with hierarchical structures and on-demand degradation useful, for instance, to engineer complex tissue structures to replace animal models, and for implants.