In recent times, cartilage defects have been the most common athletic injuries, often leading to dreadful consequences such as osteoarthritis, pain, joint deformities, and other symptoms. It is also evident that damage to articular cartilage is often difficult to recover or self-heal because of poor vascular, nervous, and lymphatic supplies. Moreover, cartilage cells have poor regeneration ability and high maturity. Inspired by these facts and the rapid advances in the field of tissue engineering (TE), we fabricated highly porous three-dimensional (3D) scaffold architectures based on cell-responsive polymeric inks, i.e., sodium alginate and gelatin (SA-Gel, 1:3 ratio), by a novel 3D printing method. Moreover, the effect of various processing parameters was systematically investigated. The printed scaffolds of polymer composites gels with excellent transparency, moderate viscosity, and excellent fluid properties showed good surface morphology, better thermal stability and swelling effect, and unique interconnected porous architectures at the optimized operating parameters. In vitro cell proliferation experiments of these cytocompatible scaffolds showed the excellent adhesion rate and growth behavior of chondrocytes. In addition, the porous architectures facilitated the efficient distribution of cells with only a few remaining on the surface, which was confirmed by confocal laser scanning microscopic (CLSM) observations. Icariin (ICA) addition at a concentration of 10 μg/mL further significantly enhanced the proliferation of chondrocytes. We envision that these cell-responsive polymeric inks in the presence of growth regulators like ICA may have potential in engineering complex tissue constructs toward diverse applications in TE.
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