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Silk bio-ink could advance 3D-printed tissue engineering

03 September 2015

3D printing has made relatively simple body parts that can be implanted in patients possible, but finding an ideal bio-ink has stalled further progress.

Silk-based, 3D printer ink for use in biomedical implants or tissue engineering (photo: American Chemical Society)

Researchers are seeking to print more complex tissues with versatile functions — tissues that can be loaded with pharmaceuticals, for example. In an article published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering, scientists describe the development of a silk-based ink that could open up new possibilities toward that goal.

Most inks currently being developed for 3-D printing are made of thermoplastics, silicones, collagen and gelatin or alginate. But there are limits to how these inks can be used. For example, the temperatures, pH changes and crosslinking methods that may be required to toughen some of these materials can damage cells or other biological components that researchers would want to add to the inks.

Additives, such as cytokines and antibiotics, are useful for directing stem cell functions and controlling infections, respectively. To address these bio-ink limitations, David Kaplan and colleagues from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University of Science and Technology turned to silk protein and developed a way to avoid these harsh processing conditions.

The researchers combined silk proteins, which are biocompatible, and glycerol, a non-toxic sugar alcohol commonly found in food and pharmaceutical products. The resulting ink was clear, flexible, stable in water, and didn’t require any processing methods, such as high temperatures, that would limit its versatility. The researchers say the novel material could potentially be used in biomedical implants and tissue engineering.


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