Tissue engineering offers the possibility to create completely natural tissue and replace failing or malfunctioning organs. In many cases, biocompatible, biodegradable polymers are utilized to either induce surrounding tissue and cell ingrowth or to serve as a temporary scaffold for transplanted cells to attach, grow, and maintain differentiated functions. Various processing techniques have therefore been developed to fabricate polymers with specific properties to meet the needs of a particular organ.
Polymer scaffolds must possess unique physical and chemical properties for specific applications and must satisfy some basic requirements for tissue engineering. These scaffolds may be implanted without cells, and the regeneration depends on ingrowth of surrounding tissue to such materials—a process known as tissue induction. Alternatively cells may be seeded into a porous polymer. The cell-polymer construct is then transplanted. In either case, one essential criterion for the scaffold is biocompatibility—that is, the polymer scaffolds and their degradation products should not invoke an adverse immune response or toxicity.
Because of the problems associated with long-term implants, such as infection, fibrous tissue formation, and the possible need for retrieval, the role of polymer scaffolds should only be a temporary one. The degradation rate is optimized to allow transplanted cells to proliferate and secrete their own extracellular matrix (ECM) while polymer scaffolds can vanish when necessary to leave enough space for new tissue growth. Biodegradability of a polymer is determined by its composition, molecular weight (MW), MW distribution, degree of crystallinity, and environmental conditions such as temperature and pH. Mechanical loading of the scaffold may affect its degradation.