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  1. Abstract

    Mechanically tunable hydrogels are attractive platforms for 3D cell culture, as hydrogel stiffness plays an important role in cell behavior. Traditionally, hydrogel stiffness has been controlled through altering either the polymer concentration or the stoichiometry between crosslinker reactive groups. Here, an alternative strategy based upon tuning the hydrophilicity of an elastin‐like protein (ELP) is presented. ELPs undergo a phase transition that leads to protein aggregation at increasing temperatures. It is hypothesized that increasing this transition temperature through bioconjugation with azide‐containing molecules of increasing hydrophilicity will allow direct control of the resulting gel stiffness by making the crosslinking groups more accessible. These azide‐modified ELPs are crosslinked into hydrogels with bicyclononyne‐modified hyaluronic acid (HA‐BCN) using bioorthogonal, click chemistry, resulting in hydrogels with tunable storage moduli (100–1000 Pa). Human mesenchymal stromal cells (hMSCs), human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs), and human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs) are all observed to alter their cell morphology when encapsulated within hydrogels of varying stiffness. Taken together, the use of protein hydrophilicity as a lever to tune hydrogel mechanical properties is demonstrated. These hydrogels have tunable moduli over a stiffness range relevant to soft tissues, support the viability of encapsulated cells, and modify cell spreading as a consequence of gel stiffness.

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  2. Abstract

    The encapsulation of cells within gel‐phase materials to form bioinks offers distinct advantages for next‐generation 3D bioprinting. 3D bioprinting has emerged as a promising tool for patterning cells, but the technology remains limited in its ability to produce biofunctional, tissue‐like constructs due to a dearth of materials suitable for bioinks. While early demonstrations commonly used viscous polymers optimized for printability, these materials often lacked cell compatibility and biological functionality. In response, advanced materials that exist in the gel phase during the entire printing process are being developed, since hydrogels are uniquely positioned to both protect cells during extrusion and provide biological signals to embedded cells as the construct matures during culture. Here, an overview of the design considerations for gel‐phase materials as bioinks is presented, with a focus on their mechanical, biochemical, and dynamic gel properties. Current challenges and opportunities that arise due to the fact that bioprinted constructs are active, living hydrogels composed of both acellular and cellular components are also evaluated. Engineering hydrogels with consideration of cells as an intrinsic component of the printed bioink will enable control over the evolution of the living construct after printing to achieve greater biofunctionality.

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  3. Abstract Three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting is a promising technique for spatially patterning cells and materials into constructs that mimic native tissues and organs. However, a trade-off exists between printability and biological function, where weak materials are typically more suited for 3D cell culture but exhibit poor shape fidelity when printed in air. Recently, a new class of assistive materials has emerged to overcome this limitation and enable fabrication of more complex, biologically relevant geometries, even when using soft materials as bioinks. These materials include support baths, which bioinks are printed into, and sacrificial inks, which are printed themselves and then later removed. Support baths are commonly yield-stress materials that provide physical confinement during the printing process to improve resolution and shape fidelity. Sacrificial inks have primarily been used to create void spaces and pattern perfusable networks, but they can also be combined directly with the bioink to change its mechanical properties for improved printability or increased porosity. Here, we outline the advantages of using such assistive materials in 3D bioprinting, define their material property requirements, and offer case study examples of how these materials are used in practice. Finally, we discuss the remaining challenges and future opportunities in the development of assistive materials that will propel the bioprinting field forward toward creating full-scale, biomimetic tissues and organs. 
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