Exploiting light-based 3D-printing for the fabrication of mechanically enhanced, patient-specific aortic grafts

Asciak, Lisa and Domingo-Roca, Roger and Dow, Jamie R. and Brodie, Robbie and Paterson, Niall and Riches, Philip E. and Shu, Wenmiao and McCormick, Christopher (2024) Exploiting light-based 3D-printing for the fabrication of mechanically enhanced, patient-specific aortic grafts. Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials, 154. 106531. ISSN 1751-6161 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmbbm.2024.106531)

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Despite polyester vascular grafts being routinely used in life-saving aortic aneurysm surgeries, they are less compliant than the healthy, native human aorta. This mismatch in mechanical behaviour has been associated with disruption of haemodynamics contributing to several long-term cardiovascular complications. Moreover, current fabrication approaches mean that opportunities to personalise grafts to the individual anatomical features are limited. Various modifications to graft design have been investigated to overcome such limitations; yet optimal graft functionality remains to be achieved. This study reports on the development and characterisation of an alternative vascular graft material. An alginate:PEGDA (AL:PE) interpenetrating polymer network (IPN) hydrogel has been produced with uniaxial tensile tests revealing similar strength and stiffness (0.39 ±0.05 MPa and 1.61 ±0.19 MPa, respectively) to the human aorta. Moreover, AL:PE tubular conduits of similar geometrical dimensions to segments of the aorta were produced, either via conventional moulding methods or stereolithography (SLA) 3D-printing. While both fabrication methods successfully demonstrated AL:PE hydrogel production, SLA 3D-printing was more easily adaptable to the fabrication of complex structures without the need of specific moulds or further post-processing. Additionally, most 3D-printed AL:PE hydrogel tubular conduits sustained, without failure, compression up to 50% their outer diameter and returned to their original shape upon load removal, thereby exhibiting promising behaviour that could withstand pulsatile pressure in vivo. Overall, these results suggest that this AL:PE IPN hydrogel formulation in combination with 3D-printing, has great potential for accelerating progress towards personalised and mechanically-matched aortic grafts.