The electrospinning technique is a versatile method for the production of fibrous scaffolds able to resemble the morphology of the native extra cellular matrix. In the present paper, electrospinning is used to fabricate novel SiO2 particles (type MCM-41) containing poly(epsilon-caprolactone) (PCL) fibers. The main aims of the present work are both the optimization of the particle synthesis and the fabrication of composite fibers, obtained using benign solvents, suitable as drug delivery systems and scaffolds for soft tissue engineering applications. The optimized synthesis and characterization of calcium-containing MCM-41 particles are reported. Homogeneous bead-free composite electrospun mats were obtained by using acetic acid and formic acid as solvents; neat PCL electrospun mats were used as control. Initially, an optimization of the electrospinning environmental parameters, like relative humidity, was performed. The obtained composite nanofibers were characterized from the morphological, chemical and mechanical points of view, the acellular bioactivity of the composite nanofibers was also investigated. Positive results were obtained in terms of mesoporous particle incorporation in the fibers and no significant differences in terms of average fiber diameter were detected between the neat and composite electrospun fibers. Even if the Ca-containing MCM-41 particles are bioactive, this property is not preserved in the composite fibers. In fact, during the bioactivity assessment, the particles were released confirming the potential application of the composite fibers as a drug delivery system. Preliminary in vitro tests with bone marrow stromal cells were performed to investigate cell adhesion on the fabricated composite mats, the positive obtained results confirmed the suitability of the composite fibers as scaffolds for soft tissue engineering.
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