Porosity over a broad range (typically 0.001–300 μm in diameter) of tissue scaffolds provides appropriate conditions for diffusion and adsorption of small molecules and macromolecules, migration of cells through the scaffold, and adequate cell proliferative capacity. Characterisation of pores over this large range poses a problem especially when analysing soft polymer hydrogels, as no one methodology can adequately cover the entire range. This work describes a combined technique used for evaluation of the porous structure of a collagen hydrogel (dermal substitute Integra®) on the basis of NMR-cryoporometry (sensitive to nanopores) and confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) imaging (sensitive to macropores). Thermodesorption of water, diffusion of proteins through a collagen membrane, migration and growth of normal primary human skin fibroblasts, and the interaction kinetics of 3T3 mouse fibroblast cells (using a quartz crystal microbalance) with collagen were analysed with respect to the porous structure of the material. The contribution to the total porosity of pores with a diameter of less than 100 nm is low, at approximately 3–5%, a figure estimated using the methods described above. However, these pores are the main contributor to the specific surface area (S ≈ 120 m2 g−1) as larger diameter macropores, with diameters of 20–200 μm, have a much lower surface area at S ≈ 0.4 m2 g−1 relative to their large pore volume V = 14.4 cm3 g−1.
Gun'ko, V. M., Mikhalovska, L., Savina, I., Shevchenko, R., James, S., Tomlins, P. E., & Mikhalovsky, S. (2010). Characterisation and performance of hydrogel tissue scaffolds. Soft Matter, 6(21), 5351-5358. https://doi.org/10.1039/C0SM00617C