Collagen Scaffolds for Tissue Engineering: The Relationship between Microstructure, Fluid Dynamics, Mechanics and Scaffold Deformation

Mohee, Lakshana 

Change log

Collagen scaffolds are porous structures which are used in bioreactors and in a wide range of tissue engineering applications. In these contexts, the scaffolds may be subjected to conditions in which fluid is forced through the structure and the scaffold is simultaneously compressed. It is clear that fluid transport within collagen scaffolds, and the inter-relationships between permeability, scaffold structure, fluid pressure and scaffold deformation are of key importance. However, these relationships remain poorly understood.

In this thesis, a series of isotropic collagen structures were produced using a freeze-drying technique from aqueous slurry concentrations 0.5, 0.75 and 1 wt%, and fully characterised using X-ray micro-tomography and compression testing. It was found that collagen wt% influenced structural parameters such as pore size, porosity, relative density and mechanical properties. Percolation theory was used to investigate the pore interconnectivity of each scaffold. Structures with lower collagen fraction resulted in larger percolation diameters, but lower mechanical stiffness. Aligned collagen scaffolds were also produced by altering the freeze-drying protocol and using different types of mould materials and designs. It was found that a polycarbonate mould with stainless base resulted in vertically aligned structures with low angular variation. When compared with isotropic scaffolds from slurry of the same concentration, aligned scaffolds had a larger percolation diameter.

Tortuosity was used as a mathematical tool to characterise the interconnected pathways within each porous structure. The effect of the size of the region of interest (ROI) chosen and the size of the virtual probe particle used in the analysis on the values of tortuosity calculated were determined and an optimised calculation methodology developed. Increasing the collagen fraction within isotropic scaffolds increased the tortuosity, and aligned structures had smaller tortuosity values than their isotropic counterparts.

Permeability studies were conducted using two complementary experimental rigs designed to cover a range of pressure regimes and the results were compared with predictions from mathematical models and computational simulations. At low pressures, it was found that the lower collagen fraction structures, which had more open morphologies, had higher permeabilities. Alignment of the structure also enhanced permeability. The scaffolds all experienced deformation at high pressures resulting in a restriction of fluid flow. The lower collagen fraction scaffolds experienced a sharper decrease in permeability with increased pressure and aligned structures were more responsive to deformation than their isotropic counterparts. The inter-relationships between permeability, scaffold structure, fluid pressure and deformation of collagen scaffolds were explored. For isotropic samples, permeability followed a broad (1−ϵ)2 behaviour with strain as predicted by a tetrakaidecahedral structural model, with the constant of proportionality changing with collagen fraction. In contrast, the aligned structures did not follow this behaviour with the permeability dropping much more sharply in the early stages of compression.

Open-cell polyurethane (PU) foams, sometimes used as dressings in wound healing applications, are often compared with collagen scaffolds in permeability models and were used in this thesis as a comparison structure. The foam had a higher permeability than the scaffolds due to its larger pore sizes and higher interconnectivity.

In the light of the effects of compression on permeability, the changes in porous structure with compression were explored in isotropic and aligned 0.75 wt% scaffolds. Unlike the fluid flow experiments, these experiments were carried out in the dry state. Deformation in simple linear compression and in step-wise compression was studied, and the stress relaxation behaviour of the scaffolds characterised. A methodology was developed to characterise the structural changes accompanying compression using X-ray micro-tomography with an in situ compression stage. The methodology accounted for the need for samples to remain unchanged during the scan collection period for stable image reconstruction. The scaffolds were studied in uniaxial compression and biaxial compression and it was found that pore size and percolation diameter decreased with increasing compressive strain, while the tortuosity increased. The aligned structure was less affected than the isotropic at low compressions, in contrast to the results from the permeability study in which the aligned structure was more responsive to strain. This suggests that the degree of hydration may affect the structural changes observed. The insights gained in this study of the inter-relationships between microstructure, fluid dynamics and deformation in collagen scaffolds are of relevance to the informed design of porous structures for medical applications.

Cameron, Ruth
Permeability, Tortuosity, Scaffold, Tissue Engineering, X-ray Imaging, Percolation theory, Collagen scaffolds, Polymer, Computational modelling, Mechanics, Compression
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Cambridge Trust Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy funding