3D printing of silk microparticle reinforced polycaprolactone scaffolds for tissue engineering applications

Cian Vyas, Jun Zhang, Øystein Øvrebø, Boyang Huang, Iwan Roberts, Mohan Setty, Benjamin Allardyce, Håvard Haugen, Rangam Rajkhowa, Paulo Jorge Da Silva Bartolo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Polycaprolactone (PCL) scaffolds have been widely investigated for tissue engineering applications, however, they exhibit poor cell adhesion and mechanical properties. Subsequently, PCL composites have been produced to improve the material properties. This study utilises a natural material, Bombyx mori silk microparticles (SMP) prepared by milling silk fibre, to produce a composite to enhance the scaffolds properties. Silk is biocompatible and biodegradable with excellent mechanical properties. However, there are no studies using SMPs as a reinforcing agent in a 3D printed thermoplastic polymer scaffold. PCL/SMP (10, 20, 30 wt. %) composites were prepared by melt blending. Rheological analysis showed that SMP loading increased the shear thinning and storage modulus of the material. Scaffolds were fabricated using a screw-assisted extrusion-based additive manufacturing system. Scanning electron microscopy and x-ray microtomography was used to determine scaffold morphology. The scaffolds had high interconnectivity with regular printed fibres and pore morphologies within the designed parameters. Compressive mechanical testing showed that the addition of SMP significantly improved the compressive Young’s modulus of the scaffolds. The scaffolds were more hydrophobic with the inclusion of SMP which was linked to a decrease in total protein adsorption. Cell behaviour was assessed using human adipose derived mesenchymal stem cells. A cytotoxic effect was observed at higher particle loading (30 wt. %) after 7 days of culture. By day 21, 10 wt. % loading showed significantly higher cell metabolic activity and proliferation, high cell viability, and cell migration throughout the scaffold. Calcium mineral deposition was observed on the scaffolds during cell culture. Large calcium mineral deposits were observed at 30 wt. % and smaller calcium deposits were observed at 10 wt. %. This study demonstrates that SMPs incorporated into a PCL scaffold provided effective mechanical reinforcement, improved the rate of degradation, and increased cell proliferation, demonstrating potential suitability for bone tissue engineering applications.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111433
JournalMaterials Science and Engineering C: Materials for Biological Applications
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2021


  • 3D printing
  • Scaffolds
  • Silk microparticles
  • Tissue engineering


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