Dual-Responsive Hydrogels for Direct-Write 3D Printing

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Direct-write 3D printing enables the fabrication of three-dimensional objects via the extrusion from a nozzle. Stimuli responsive materials that shear-thin are well-suited as inks for these 3D printing systems. Poly(isopropyl glycidyl ether)-block-poly(ethylene oxide)-block-poly(isopropyl glycidyl ether) ABA triblock copolymers were synthesized using controlled ring-opening polymerization to afford dual stimuli-responsive polymers that respond to both shear forces and temperature. These polymers were demonstrated to form hydrogels in water. The gels were observed to be thermoreversible-driven by the lower critical solution temperature of the poly(isopropyl glycidyl ether) block which helps facilitate loading of the ink into the printer syringe. Rheological studies demonstrated that the gels had a rapid and reversible modulus response to shear stress. Thus, these materials were suitable as inks for direct-write 3D printing, as they were easily extruded during printing and maintained sufficient mechanical integrity which was necessary to support the next printed layer. Printed structures of high aspect ratio pillars and stacked layers were successfully demonstrated. These types of 3D hydrogel structures may ultimately have an impact in the biomedical field for applications such as tissue engineering.