Ghent University, Belgium
Kim Ragaert is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Polymer Materials and Technologies at Ghent University, Belgium. In 2011, she obtained her Ph.D. in Engineering from Ghent University, on a topic related to micro-extrusion based 3D plotting of scaffolds for tissue engineering. She is the author of several peer-reviewed manuscripts, a patent application and a book chapter. She also lectures to engineering students on materials science, polymer processing and material characterization.
3D plotting of micro-extruded filaments is a promising method for the additive manufacturing of porous scaffolds (for tissue engineering) in thermoplastic polymers. A much investigated polymer for degradable scaffolds is poly--caprolactone (PCL). One of the remaining issues with the material is its inherent hydrophilicity, which leads to non-specific protein adsorption. Specifically for cardiovascular applications, it has also been found that PCL is insufficiently flexible to mimic the mechanicelastic behavior of the natural tissue. Earlier research has shown that blending with low molecular weight poly-ethylene-oxide (PEO) may offer an improvement in terms of both hydrophilicity and flexibility. Until now, condensation polymerization has been used as a manufacturing method for these blends, since PCL and PEO are largely immiscible in the melt. Condensation polymerization, however, is tedious work which yields only a few grams of material at a time. Therefore, in the current research, a method has been developed for the bulk compounding of PCL-PEO blends, using a double-screw extruder. The manufactured blends were evaluated for composition, dispersion of the PEO, surface and mechanical properties of 3D-plotted scaffolds and crystalline morphology.