Sep 22, 2015 | By Tess

Just days ago it was announced that a 3D printed guide developed by researchers in Minnesota could help facilitate the regrowth of damaged nerves within the human body. In the wake of this exciting breakthrough, is another progressive use for 3D printing within the medical world, as the same researchers have found a way to release biomolecules into the body through a 3D printed scaffold with more precision than ever before.

The 3D printed scaffolds were developed by Michael McAlpine, an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota, and were funded in part by the NIBIB (National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering).

The goal of the research that led to the 3D printed scaffolds was to find an effective way to support and help in the growth of new tissue, particularly where severe damage had occurred. Normally, tissue development is guided and made possible through gradients of biomolecules, which work to orchestrate, in a sense, the growth, migration and differentiation of cells. The 3D printed scaffolds, themselves equipped with biomolecules would allow for these gradients to be recreated within the body, thus promoting more effective tissue growth.

As demonstrated in the video below, the scaffolds are created by first 3D printing layers of gel in a cylindrical shape. Once the base has been printed, tiny capsules containing biomolecules are then printed onto the gel. This process continues until there are several layers of the gel and of the biomolecule capsules making up the scaffold. What is notable about the biomolecule capsules is that each is surrounded by an imperceptible shell, so to speak. The shells, which contain tiny gold rods that heat up in the presence of a laser, are made to burst when the appropriate color of laser is used. What this ultimately means is that researchers are able to control to an extremely precise degree which biomolecules are released from the 3D printed scaffold and into the body at a particular time by using corresponding lasers.

Of course, the model in the video is in a cylindrical shape, but McAlpine points out that because of 3D printing’s versatility, the biomolecules could be printed and arranged in almost any shape or design making them extremely adaptable. Also, because of the non-specific nature of the gel, the 3D printed scaffolds could be used variously within the body, helping the growth of a variety of bodily tissues. As he goes on to explain, “A particularly far-reaching example would be the ability to guide the vascularization of artificial tissue by 3D printing capsules alongside stem cells.”

Not only that, however, the biomolecules infused into the scaffold can also vary. As McAlpine observes, “One can imagine filling the capsules with molecules such as medications, nucleic acids, enzymes, growth factors, cell markers and other functional proteins.” Meaning that the scaffolds have not only the potential to help in the regrowth of tissues, but could also eventually be used in the release of medication to targeted parts of the body.

As Rosemarie Hunziker, Ph.D., and program director for Tissue Engineering at the NIBIB says of the breakthrough, “NIBIB’s goal is to help develop enabling technologies that could have big impacts on important medical problems. Tools like this gel give us many options for designing “tissues to order” for a variety of needs.”



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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