Novel Electrospun Polycaprolactone/Calcium Alginate Scaffolds for Skin Tissue Engineering
After decades of research, fully functional skin regeneration is still a challenge. Skin is a multilayered complex organ exhibiting a cascading healing process affected by various mechanisms. Specifically, nutrients, oxygen, and biochemical signals can lead to specific cell behavior, ultimately conducive to the formation of high-quality tissue. This biomolecular exchange can be tuned through scaffold engineering, one of the leading fields in skin substitutes and equivalents. The principal objective of this investigation was the design, fabrication, and evaluation of a new class of three-dimensional fibrous scaffolds consisting of poly(&epsilon;-caprolactone) (PCL)/calcium alginate (CA), with the goal to induce keratinocyte differentiation through the action of calcium leaching. Scaffolds fabricated by electrospinning using a PCL/sodium alginate solution were treated by immersion in a calcium chloride solution to replace alginate-linked sodium ions by calcium ions. This treatment not only provided ion replacement, but also induced fiber crosslinking. The scaffold morphology was examined by scanning electron microscopy and systematically assessed by measurements of the pore size and the diameter, alignment, and crosslinking of the fibers. The hydrophilicity of the scaffolds was quantified by contact angle measurements and was correlated to the augmentation of cell attachment in the presence of CA. The in vitro performance of the scaffolds was investigated by seeding and staining fibroblasts and keratinocytes and using differentiation markers to detect the evolution of basal, spinous, and granular keratinocytes. The results of this study illuminate the potential of the PCL/CA scaffolds for tissue engineering and suggest that calcium leaching out from the scaffolds might have contributed to the development of a desirable biological environment for the attachment, proliferation, and differentiation of the main skin cells (i.e., fibroblasts and keratinocytes).