The requirement for immediate vascularization of engineered dental pulp poses a major hurdle towards successful implementation of pulp regeneration as an effective therapeutic strategy for root canal therapy, especially in adult teeth. Here, we demonstrate a novel strategy to engineer pre-vascularized, cell-laden hydrogel pulp-like tissue constructs in full-length root canals for dental pulp regeneration. We utilized gelatin methacryloyl (GelMA) hydrogels with tunable physical and mechanical properties to determine the microenvironmental conditions (microstructure, degradation, swelling and elastic modulus) that enhanced viability, spreading and proliferation of encapsulated odontoblast-like cells (OD21), and the formation of endothelial monolayers by endothelial colony forming cells (ECFCs). GelMA hydrogels with higher polymer concentration (15% w/v) and stiffness enhanced OD21 cell viability, spreading and proliferation, as well as endothelial cell spreading and monolayer formation. We then fabricated pre-vascularized, full-length, dental pulp-like tissue constructs by dispensing OD21 cell-laden GelMA hydrogel prepolymer in root canals of extracted teeth and fabricating 500 μm channels throughout the root canals. ECFCs seeded into the microchannels successfully formed monolayers and underwent angiogenic sprouting within 7 days in culture. In summary, the proposed approach is a simple and effective strategy for engineering of pre-vascularized dental pulp constructs offering potentially beneficial translational outcomes.
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