Biomimetic Collagen Scaffolds with Anisotropic Pore Architecture
N.Davidenko*1, T.Gibb1, C. Schuster1, S.M. Best1, J.J. Campbell2, C.J. Watson2 R.E.
Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge, Pembroke
Street, Cambridge CB2 3QZ, UK
Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, Tennis Court Road, Cambridge, CB2
*Corresponding author. Tel: +44 1223 334560; fax: +44 1223 334567.
E-mail address: [email protected]
Keywords: tissue engineering, collagen, scaffolds, freeze-drying, oriented pore structure
Sponge-like matrices with a specific 3D structural design resembling the actual
extracellular matrix (ECM) of a particular tissue show significant potential for the
regeneration and repair of a broad range of damaged anisotropic tissues. The manipulation of
the structure of collagen scaffolds using a freeze-drying technique was explored in this work
as an intrinsically biocompatible way of tailoring the inner architecture of the scaffold. The
research was focused on the influence of temperature gradients, imposed during the phase of
crystallisation of collagen suspensions, upon the degree of anisotropy in the microstructures
of the scaffolds produced. Moulding technology was employed to achieve differences in heat
transfer rates during the freezing processes. For this purpose various moulds with different
configurations were developed with a view to producing uni-axial and multidirectional
temperature gradients across the sample during this process. SEM analysis of different crosssections (longitudinal and horizontal) of scaffolds revealed that highly aligned matrices with
axially directed pore architecture were obtained where single unidirectional temperature
gradient was induced. Alteration of freezing conditions by the introduction of multitemperature gradients allowed collagen scaffolds to be produced with complex pore
orientations, and anisotropy in pore size and alignment.
Every tissue and organ has its own specific 3-dimensional (3D) extracellular matrix
structure. Cells in a 3D support for tissue engineering (TE) typically align new ECM
components according to the inner architecture of the bioscaffold [1-3]. Therefore, spongelike matrices with a specific 3D structural design resembling the actual ECM of a particular
tissue would show great potential for the regeneration and repair of a broad range of damaged
anisotropic tissues.
Several approaches have been reported to date for the production of scaffolds with
anisotropic arrangements, mostly with longitudinal pore alignment. Many of these procedures
are based on heating and/or use of harsh chemicals [4-8]. For example, the techniques of
injection moulding and solvent evaporation [4], fibre templating [5], porogen leaching [6],
microfilament alignment [7], and wire-heating [8] involve the incorporation, and subsequent
removal, of additional chemicals, polymeric fibres, or metal wires, from the scaffold
architecture to obtain the desired pore orientation. Such methods may be applied effectively
for the production of 3D matrices from synthetic polymers but are not to be recommended for
proteins, since these would become denatured and their biological properties would be
destroyed [9-10]. Hence, despite the success of the above mentioned methods for producing
anisotropic scaffolds, the complexity of the processes themselves and the use of additional
chemicals demand that novel technologies be developed for forming tissue-specific matrices.
An important technique which overcomes the above obstacles is that of freeze drying. In
this case a suspension of the water-soluble polymer is frozen, thereby creating an
interpenetrating network of ice crystals [11-14]. These ice crystals are then removed by
reducing the chamber pressure to induce sublimation, thus leading to the formation of a
porous scaffold.Studies show that uniform conditions throughout the sample on freezing
induce an isotropic pore arrangement in the lyophilised biopolymer [12-15]. O´Brien el al.
[12], for example, reported the synthesis of highly uniform collagen-glycosaminoglycan (CG)
scaffolds by adjusting mould size and cooling rate. In this work the conventional freezedrying technique was modified to create an even more uniform contact between the pan
containing the CG suspension and the freezing shelf. At the same time the rate of cooling of
the CG suspension was slowed down in order to produce more homogeneous freezing
conditions during the process of formation. These modifications led to increase in
homogeneity of the scaffold structure
Recently, improved methods for producing collagen-based scaffolds have been detailed
where pore structure homogeneity and mean pore size have been altered and controlled so as
to produce scaffolds with the required inner architecture. It was reported that the introduction
of a unidirectional temperature gradient in the suspension during the freezing phase induced
linear anisotropy in the scaffold morphology in the direction of this gradient [16-18]. For
example, agarose [17,18] and collagen-based matrices [16] with axially oriented pore
structures, produced by freeze-drying, have recently been described in the literature. It is of
note that in these studies scaffolds with different pore diameters and orientations were
obtained. These papers used apparently similar temperature regimes, but different mould
A different approach to producing a radial pore size gradient in collagen-based scaffolds
was reported by Harley et al. [19]. By use of a spinning technique, whereby the spinning time
and/or spinning velocity of the CG suspension were varied, a novel process was developed in
this work to create a broad range of tubular 3D matrices with radically aligned pore
structures. Matrices with such an anisotropic arrangement were produced to facilitate the
study of myofibroblast migration during peripheral nerve regeneration.
Collagen, in particular Type I, with its range of useful properties, such as low
antigenicity, biocompatibility and appropriate mechanical characteristics, has frequently been
employed as the main scaffold material [15, 16, 20-22]. Collagen scaffolds may be formed by
freeze-drying their aqueous suspensions to which an organic acid is often added to encourage
the formation of a dendritic ice crystal network without side branching [15-16]. Following ice
sublimation, a pore structure with exactly the same morphology as the ice crystals is
produced in the scaffold. This makes it possible to control the properties of the scaffold
topography by adjusting the processing conditions.
The manipulation of the structure of collagen sponges would, therefore, be a matter of
great interest, since this would provide an intrinsically biocompatible way of tailoring the
scaffold to the precise requirements of the tissue to be re-grown. With this in mind, the
current work was directed to the study of the influence of temperature gradients, imposed
during the phase of crystallisation of collagen suspensions, upon the inner structures of
collagen scaffolds prepared by a lyophilisation technique, with the aim of obtaining cellsupports resembling the in vivo 3D organization of the ECM. Moulding technology was
employed to achieve differences in heat transfer rates during the freezing processes. For this
purpose various moulds with different configurations were developed with a view to
producing a range of temperature gradients during the freezing stage and, hence, inducing
different degrees of anisotropy in the microstructures of the scaffolds.
Materials and methods
2.1 Scaffold preparation
By use of the technique of freeze-drying various collagen scaffold samples with different
pore alignments were produced. A 1%-wt suspension of an insoluble, type I microfibrillar
collagen derived from bovine Achilles tendon (Sigma-Aldrich Co. Ltd., UK) was prepared in
0.05 M acetic acid solution (Sigma-Aldrich Co. Ltd., UK), and the pH value of the resulting
solution was adjusted to below 2.0 with 1M hydrochloric acid (VWR International Ltd., UK).
This suspension was blended at 20,000 rpm using an overhead homogenizer for 30 min at
4C, and then, after mixing, centrifuged in a bench-top centrifuge at 2500 rpm for 5 min to
remove air bubbles formed during the blending. The prepared collagen suspension was
divided into five portions each of which was then frozen in a different shaped mould. These
moulds, described as follows, were designed in such a way as to create different temperature
gradients in the cast sample during the freezing stage.
Mould 1 was made entirely from high thermal conductivity 316L stainless steel
(d=45mm; h=13mm) in a cylindrical format to produce a uniform temperature throughout the
collagen suspension during freezing (Fig1, M1).
Mould 2 was a modified version of Mould 1 where an insulating tubular Perspex insert
(20 mm thick) was located in the cylindrical steel vessel so as to produce a temperature
gradient from the base to the top of the freezing sample (Fig 1, M2).
Mould 3 was designed to produce a greater temperature gradient to that of Mould 2 by
altering the ratio between the conductive (base) and the insulated (wall) sections of this
holder. In this case the steel base was replaced by a highly conductive flat copper base, and
cylindrical holes (d=10mm and h=30mm) were machined in the Perspex insert (Fig1, M3).
Mould 4 was designed with the objective of forming two different temperature gradients:
one horizontally (across the sample) and the other vertically (from the base to the surface of
the sample). In this case the vessel was cubic, and the base consisted of an inverted copper
wedge supported on a Perspex wedge of similar dimensions (Fig1, B).
Mould 5 was similar to Mould 4, but in this case the positions of the copper and Perspex
wedges were inverted so that the Perspex wedge (minimum thickness 0.1mm to a maximum
10mm) then separated the collagen suspension from the copper wedge base and was used to
produce a more defined temperature gradient across the horizontal plane of the freezing
A relatively high freezing temperature (-30C) and a relatively slow rate of cooling (less
that 1C min-1) were the freeze-drying conditions chosen to promote the formation of larger
sized ice crystals (100 micrometres or above). The frozen suspensions were subsequently
sublimed at 0C for 24 h under vacuum at less than 100 mTorr.
To enhance the structural stability of the collagen scaffolds, their lyophilised samples
were cross-linked with a water-soluble carbodiimide (EDC). These scaffolds were immersed
in a 95% ethanol solution containing 33mM 1-ethyl-3-(3-dimethylamino propyl)carbodiimide hydrochloride (EDC, Sigma-Aldrich Co. Ltd., UK) and 6mM Nhydroxysuccinimide (NHS, Sigma-Aldrich Co. Ltd., UK) for 4 h at 25C. Following the
crosslinking process the scaffolds were washed thoroughly with distilled water (5 x 5 min)
and were subsequently re-frozen and re-lyophilized using the freeze-drying cycle detailed
2.2 Temperature gradient
Temperature gradients created during the freezing stage in each mould were measured by
inserting thermocouples at different points in the collagen suspension. For Moulds 1, 2 and 3
the thermocouples were placed at the top of the scaffold (close to the collagen suspension/air
interface) and at the base of the mould itself where it made contact with the cooling shelf of
the freeze dryer (Fig 1A). In the case of Moulds 4 and 5 the base temperatures were
measured on both sides of the copper wedge (see Fig 1B) at the base of the mould.
2.3 Pore volume fraction
The pore volume fraction (%) of the scaffold, Vf, was calculated according to the
following equation:
Vf = (Vt-Vc/Vt ) x100% = (Vt-(m/d)/Vt) x100%
where: Vc, volume occupied by the collagen; Vt, total volume of the scaffold;
d, density of anhydrous collagen (assumed to be 1.3 g/mL); and m, mass of scaffold.
2.4 Scaffold morphology
A scanning electron microscopy (SEM) (JEOL 5800) was used to determine the pore
structures of the scaffolds. Samples were sputter-coated with a layer of platinum for
observation at 10kV at various levels of magnification.
In the case of Moulds 1-3, both longitudinal and transversal horizontal sections from the top
and the bottom extremes of the scaffold were examined in order to identify any differences in
pore size across the sample resulting from the imposed temperature regime.
In the case of Moulds 4 and 5, eight cross-sections of each sample were examined under
the SEM, in order to determine the three dimensional pore structure of the sponges produced.
These sections were selected and cut with considerable care to ensure that their orientation
with respect to the body of the sample was known at all times, thereby permitting the pore
orientation to be determined precisely.
Results and Discussion
3.1 Temperature gradient
The temperatures observed during cooling are shown in Figures 2-3. The results are
described as follows.
Mould 1: It was found that in this mould no temperature difference existed between the
top and bottom of the cast scaffold suspension (Fig 2, A), meaning that the entire collagen
suspension was frozen and lyophilised under homogeneous temperature conditions. This
leads to the premise that the resultant scaffold should display an isotropic inner architecture.
Mould 2: This mould, with the same construction as Mould 1, but containing a Perspex
insert, produced a longitudinal temperature gradient during the cooling stage from the bottom
to the top of the sample (Fig 2, B1 ), which was not homogeneous throughout all the freezing
process, but at some point reached ∆~16C. This gradient profile might possibly result from
the fairly extended conducting area on the bottom of this mould, which equilibrates the
temperature between the top and the base as time advances.
Mould 3: In this case, where the size ratio between the conductive (base) and the
insulated (wall) sections of this holder was significantly diminished (in comparison to Mould
2), a fairly stable longitudinal temperature gradient (mainly in the range ∆~16-18C) from the
bottom to the top of the sample during all the freezing period (Fig 2, B2) was clearly
produced. This confirms that the design of this mould is suitable for inducing a fairly
constant unidirectional temperature gradient. The presence of a single temperature gradient
was expected to produce uniaxial linearly orientated pore alignment in the direction of the
temperature gradient. It is of note that both: top and bottom temperatures are equilibrated on
the subsequent freeze-drying phase (results not shown) when a vacuum is applied to sublime
ice crystals from the frozen collagen suspension.
Mould 4: Here an attempt was made to create a temperature gradient horizontally across
the sample. However, the bottom temperatures measured on both sides of the copper wedge
shown no difference in their values (Fig 3A), suggesting that a horizontally orientated
temperature gradient had not been achieved in this mould. This result can be explained by
virtue of the position of the copper wedge on the base of the holder, where despite the
differences in wedge thickness on each side of the mould (from 1 to 10 mm), the high
conductivity of this material causes the temperature throughout the entire base to rapidly
equilibrate, and as a result heat flows only longitudinally from the bottom to the top during
the freezing and crystallisation phase, in a way similar to that of Mould 3.
Mould 5: In this mould two temperature gradients, as predicted, were confirmed, namely:
∆~10°C horizontally (between the thick and thin ends of the copper wedge) and ∆~10÷15C
vertically from bottom to top (see Fig 3B). Here the highly conductive copper wedge was
separated from the frozen sample by an insulating Perspex layer of variable thickness (from
0.1 mm to 10 mm) in a horizontal direction, which caused the variations in temperature at the
base of the sample. The success of the design of Mould 5 in creating two concurrent
temperature gradients in the freezing collagen suspension is evident, and this leads to the
expectation that these gradients induce multiple pore orientation within the scaffold.
3.2 Pore volume fraction and relative density
The dry density, relative density (obtained from the dry density of each freeze-dried
sample and the known dry density of solid collagen =1.3g cm-3 [23]) and the pore volume
fraction of all scaffolds prepared in different moulds were calculated. The values obtained
(Table 1) displayed no significant differences between the various scaffolds for all the
parameters calculated. This result is to be expected since these parameters are mostly a
function of the slurry concentration from which the collagen matrices were produced, and in
all cases identical 1%-wt suspensions were employed to obtain the scaffolds.
3.3 SEM studies of scaffold morphology
The pore structure of collagen scaffolds obtained by freeze-drying is a replica of the
morphology of the ice crystals formed during the freezing process, and this structure
ultimately depends upon the design of the sample holder (mould). The results obtained from
the five moulds utilised in this study are described as follows:
Mould 1: In this Mould, as described previously, the temperature of the frozen sample
was uniform throughout (Fig 2, A). This should lead to the ice crystals growing at the same
rate in all directions, and thus causing the formation, after sublimation, of a homogeneous
distribution of rounded pores within the resulting scaffold. Confirmation of this assumption
was made by SEM examination of the scaffold produced in the mould (see Fig 4), where both
cross- and longitudinal sections revealed a homogeneous structure containing round pores of
similar size, mostly falling within the range 110-130 µm.
Moulds 2 and 3: SEM images of the top and bottom of both the longitudinal and
horizontal cross sections of the collagen matrices produced in Mould 2 are shown in Figure 5.
It is interesting to note that vertical pore alignment along the temperature gradient is only
observed in the longitudinal top segment (Fig 5C) while in its matching bottom segment (Fig
5D) a mixture of both randomly distributed round pores (similar to those found in the top (Fig
5A) and bottom (Fig 5B) horizontal cross-sections) and vertically aligned pores are present.
Mould 3, however, produced uniaxial pore alignment throughout the whole vertical scaffold
plane, as seen in both the top and the bottom longitudinal sections of the freeze-dried sample
(Fig 6, C and D). In comparison to Mould 2 this holder created a greater and more
homogeneous uniaxial temperature gradient (see Fig 2, B1 and B2), and as a result a more
defined longitudinal pore alignment was produced in the scaffold. It is clear that variation of
the dimensional proportions between the conducting and insulating areas in the mould
provides an effective means of producing different temperature gradients in the frozen
suspension and, consequently, different levels of anisotropy in the scaffold structure.
In the case of the horizontal cross-sections of both Moulds 2 and 3 very similar pore
profiles were found for corresponding sections (Fig 5, A and B and Fig 6, A and B ), namely,
the bottom slices possess a more circular and uniform porous microstructure with smaller
sizes (mainly ranging between 70 and 100µm). This is in contrast to those in the top crosssections, where a mixture of circular pores (with diameters in the range 90 to 120µm) and
ones with an enlarged, oval shape (ranging from 130 to 180µm) were encountered.
The formation of smaller and more uniform pore sizes on the scaffold base is a result of
the lower cooling temperature and faster cooling rate on the bottom of these moulds, which
gives rise to the creation of many small ice crystals all growing at the same rate in all
directions. On the top area, however, the cooling rate is lower so that the temperature is
higher and the ice crystal formation is slower. As a consequence, the pore structure resulting
from sublimation of ice crystals on this surface area is of a larger size and less uniform
profile in comparison to that observed on the scaffold base.
The explanations given above for the pore profiles observed in the cross-sections at the
top and the bottom of the freeze-dried samples are in complete concordance with the wellknown and widely documented [3,12,14, 24-26] temperature dependence of scaffold pore
sizes produced by lyophilisation techniques. It is generally accepted that lower cooling
temperatures yield smaller pore sizes for matrices with isotropic inner architecture.
In some recent works the influence of temperature on the dimensional properties of 3D
scaffolds with anisotropic pores design has been described [3, 16-18]. For example, Faraj et
all [3] reported the changes in pore sizes in the lower pan and the top cross-sections of
uniaxial orientated collagen sponges, and attributed these differences to the insulating
properties of the plastic holder used for scaffold preparation. Furthermore, comparing the
results of the development of agarose scaffold [17,18] with those for collagen-based matrices
[16], where axially aligned pores structures were found in both cases, it is of note that
matrices with quite different pore diameters were produced under apparently similar
temperature regimes. It can be seen that in the work of Stokols and Tuszynski, where a glass
[17] or plastic [18] holder containing the agarose solution was placed directly on to a block
of dry ice, pores with a mean diameter of about 120 µm were obtained. However, in the case
of the collagen-based matrices [16], where the copper base was fitted into the cylindrical
plastic mould to enhance the heat transfer process between the mould and the cooling media,
matrices with diameters ranging from 20 to 60µm, and with linearly aligned pores, were
produced. These examples highlight the importance of both material conductivity and mould
design in creating the right freezing regime during the crystallization stage of the biopolymer
suspensions in order to produce scaffolds with the desired final pore size and spatial
Mould 4: Mould 4 did not produce the expected multi-directional temperature regime
and the scaffold microstructure once more demonstrated uniaxial pore alignment (see Fig 7A)
due to the single temperature gradient that the aqueous collagen experienced as it froze. SEM
images of horizontal cross-sections of the scaffold taken from the bottom of the samples on
both sides of the copper wedge (Fig 7B, A1 and B1), revealed very similar profiles, namely,
mainly rounded pores with diameters varying between 80 and 130 µm spread uniformly
throughout the horizontal plane of the collagen matrix. In both of the horizontal cross
sections taken close to the top surface of the matrix (Fig 7B, A2 and B2) a mixture of circular
pores (with diameters between 80 and 120µm) and enlarged, oval-shaped ones (ranging from
150 to 250µm) were found. These findings were similar to those in Moulds 2 and 3.
The two longitudinal sections taken from the front (Fig 7A, 1 and 2) and those from the sides
of the freeze-dried collagen matrix (Fig 7A, 3 and 4) showed very similar unidirectional pore
alignment from the bottom to the top of the scaffold along the imposed vertical temperature
Mould 5: As expected, the most interesting results were produced from this mould,
where the freezing suspension was subjected to two temperature gradients (Fig 3B), resulting
in pore structures different from those found in Moulds 1-4. For example, images of the
bottom and top horizontal cross-sections of the scaffold corresponding to areas above the
thick and thin ends of the Perspex wedge (Fig 8A) revealed two important aspects of the pore
profiles which were not observed in the other moulds.
Firstly, complex, multidirectional pore alignment was observed in the horizontal plane of
the scaffold. This can be clearly seen from the low magnification images of the cross-sections
taken at the bottom of the scaffold and the top of the sample above the thin end of the
Perspex wedge (see Fig 8A, B1 and B2).
Secondly, anisotropy of pore size was seen in the cross section of the scaffold in the
direction of the horizontal temperature gradient: images of each of the bottom cross-sections
(Fig 8A, A1 and B1) showed that the pores, which in the main are oval shaped, became
increasingly elongated and enlarged in diameter from 80-110µm to 120-350µm from the
thick to the thin ends of the copper wedge.
The occurrence of these specific characteristics could clearly be attributed to the
influence of the horizontal temperature gradient acting in conjunction with the vertical
gradient present from the bottom to the top of the sample.
In a similar way to Moulds 2-4, pores at the bottom cross-sections in Mould 5 are of smaller
size in comparison to the corresponding top sections (Fig 8A, A1-B1 and A2-B2) as a result
of the lower cooling temperature and faster cooling rate at the base of this mould.
However, in contrast to that found in the corresponding sections taken in Mould 4, the
four longitudinal sections (see Fig 8B), obtained from the two front and two side planes (both
sides of the copper wedge) of the scaffold in Mould 5 displayed differences in pore size and
orientation. For example, the two front sections (Fig 8B, 1 and 2) showed clear deviation in
pore alignment from the strictly vertical orientation, possibly due to superimposition of the
two temperature gradients (vertical and horizontal) which causes diagonal displacement of
the pore channels. Furthermore, the widths between the longitudinally aligned collagen fibrils
(columns of pores) increase gradually from 60 to 250µm in a horizontal direction from the
thick to the thin end of the copper wedge. In the case of the longitudinal side sections (Fig
8B, 3 and 4), vertical pore orientation was observed from the top to the bottom of the scaffold
along the vertical temperature gradient, due to heat flowing almost vertically in these regions
of the sample. This occurrence was similar to that of Mould 4.
However, in the case of scaffolds produced in Mould 5 the widths of the collagen
columns above the thick and thin ends of the copper wedge were not the same: they were
smaller at the thicker end as a result of the more rapid cooling of the sample at this end of the
copper wedge (compare Fig 8B, 3 and 4). This rapid cooling would create a lower freezing
temperature in the collagen suspension and, in turn, would induce a greater driving force for
nucleation with the corresponding formation of a higher number of pores of smaller
dimension, which would then define the width of the pores and the column in which they are
In summary, the further alteration of freezing conditions by the introduction of two
temperature gradients in Mould 5, as demonstrated in this work, allowed collagen scaffolds to
be produced with complex pore orientations, and anisotropy in pore size and alignment.
3.4 Potential applications
The scaffold with homogeneous and highly interconnected porous architecture obtained
in Mould 1 closely resembles the ECM morphology of various natural tissues, for example,
the human adult lung, where thin alveolar walls surround the rounded air spaces and form
cup-shaped structures [27, 28]. Therefore, this kind of isotropic cup-like matrix may find its
use as a cellular support for the regeneration of alveolar-like tissue structures.
Isotropic scaffolds are currently used as cellular supports for other in vivo and in vitro TE
applications [11, 15, 20-22, 29-38]. One such use is for bone or cartilage repair. Lynn et al,
for example, reported in a series of recently published papers [39-43] the successful use of
isotropic collagen-glucosaminoglycan scaffolds as biodegradable 3D matrices for rebuilding
bone and cartilage tissues weakened by injury or age. These authors described a method
enables the production of porous, layered scaffolds that mimic the composition and structure
of articular cartilage on one side, subchondral bone on the other side, and the continuous,
gradual or ‘‘soft’’ interface between these tissues: the tidemark of articular joints. The
reported isotropic-type scaffold systems have already received approval in Europe for their
clinical use as implant materials.
Tissues which are newly produced in such matrices would adopt the same isotropic form
as the supporting network, but if the local tissue possesses anisotropic organization, a second
differentiation step is required, after scaffold desorption, to provide correct tissue alignment.
However, there is usually insufficient plasticity in the artificially created tissue for its spatial
rearrangement process to occur and, hence, the material does not display the anisotropy of the
native one [44-46]. This means that the successful production of matrices with a specifically
tailored pore alignment would represent an important advance, since such matrices would
more closely match the structure of the original tissue. In this respect, anisotropic collagen
scaffolds, as produced in Moulds 2-5, may find their use extended successfully into totally
new applications. For example, highly aligned scaffolds with axially directed pore
architecture, similar to those obtained in Moulds 2-4, may be suitable as nerve guidance
matrices for supporting axonal elongation in peripheral nerves and the spinal cord [16-18,
47], thereby enhancing the regenerative processes after nerve damage. In addition, the
oriented scaffold may be used as a delivery vehicle for exogenous cells, growth factors and
genes [48] in cases where the regenerative response induced by the scaffold alone is
insufficient. The microstructure of highly aligned collagen matrices also resemble the ECM
of tendon tissue with longitudinally oriented, closely packed collagen fibres and fibrils [49]
so that this kind of matrix might be used for restoring damaged tendon-like tissues although
their mechanical performance should be improved before use in practical applications.
If ultimately the native tissue requiring substitution or repair is considerably more
complex than having anisotropy in only one single direction, the development of scaffolds
with multiple pore orientation will represent a great step forward in the challenge to find a
match more closely fitting to the tissue structure.
The current work has made advances in this respect, where the scaffolds produced in
Mould 5 displayed the desired complex multi-directional pore alignment. The matrices
produced in this way might find application in cardiac therapy or in mammary gland
replacement treatments [50-53]. In heart tissue for example, the alignment of structure varies
throughout the wall of the heart [50-53], while mammary glands have splayed and branched
duct structures [54-56]. This means that there is a potentially great advantage in creating
biomimetic 3D environments that mimic these highly anisotropic structures of natural tissues.
It could also be foreseen that once the technique of using multiple controlled temperature
gradients to create complex pore variation in biopolymers is established, this would be
extended to the production of a broad range of other anisotropic tissues.
In this study, advantage was taken of a simple freeze-drying technique, combined with
moulding technology, to produce collagen scaffolds with different pore alignments. Although
a similar lyophilisation technique with uniaxial temperature gradient has been reported in the
literature for the formation of pore orientated biopolymer scaffolds, the anisotropy achieved
was, at best, only in a single direction throughout the sample. Tissue morphologies are often
far more complex than parallel-layered structures, and so this work has explored the effect of
introducing a more complex temperature environment in the formation of collagen scaffolds,
to produce samples with varying pore orientations throughout their bulk. Here, well-defined
moulds were designed to induce uniaxial or multidirectional temperature gradients in
collagen slurries during their freezing stage to maintain control of ice crystal growth. The
subsequent freeze-drying process, in which the ice was sublimed, led to the formation of
differently oriented pore channels in a collagen sponge-like scaffold. The above process
enjoys a considerable advantage in this case, since there is no requirement for additional
chemicals or expensive/customized equipment, which means that such methodology may be
easily and cheaply implemented.
The authors acknowledge support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences
Research Council, United Kingdom and the NC3Rs initiative.
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Figure 1
Thermocouple location for measuring temperature (T) gradients during
freezing stages. Scheme A for Moulds 1-3 (M1-M3, respectively), Scheme B for Moulds 4
and 5.
1-Shelf T; 2-Top T; 3-Thick side base T; 4-Thin side base T.
Figure 2
Temperature during freezing stage in: A-Mould 1; B1-Mould 2; B2-Mould 3.
Figure 3
Temperature during freezing stage in: A- Mould 4; B- Mould 5.
Figure 4
SEM images of scaffolds freeze-dried in Mould 1: A- horizontal cross-
section; B- longitudinal cross-section.
Figure 5
SEM images of scaffolds freeze-dried in Mould 2: A- horizontal top cross-
section; B- horizontal bottom cross-section; C- longitudinal top cross-section; D- longitudinal
bottom cross-section.
Figure 6
SEM images of scaffolds freeze-dried in Mould 3: A- horizontal top cross-
section; B- horizontal bottom cross-section; C- longitudinal top cross-section; D- longitudinal
bottom cross-section.
Figure 7
SEM images of the scaffolds produced in Mould 4. A- longitudinal cross-
sections: 1 and 2: two front sections; 3 and 4: two side sections taken from the “thick” (3) and
“thin” (4) sides of the copper wedge. B- horizontal cross-sections: A1 and B1: bottom
sections taken from the “thick” (A) and “thin” (B) sides of the copper wedge; A2 and B2: top
sections taken from the “thick” (A) and “thin” (B) sides of the copper wedge.
Figure 8
SEM images of the scaffolds produced in Mould 5. A- horizontal cross-
sections: A1 and B1: bottom sections taken from the “thick” (A) and “thin” (B) sides of the
copper wedge; A2 and B2: top sections taken from the “thick” (A) and “thin” (B) sides of the
copper wedge. B- longitudinal cross-sections: 1 and 2: two front sections; 3 and 4: two side
sections taken from the “thick” (3) and “thin” (4) sides of the copper wedge.
Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
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Fig. 8

Scaffold preparation - University of Cambridge