Dec 21, 2017 | By Julia

As 3D printing continues to advance biomedical engineering beyond what past generations thought possible, a team of researchers based out of Queen Mary’s University of London (QMUL) is already preparing to take the next step. Lead researcher Alvaro Mata, a professor in the QMUL School of Engineering and Materials Science, along with co-author and PhD student Gastón Primo, are hard at work developing a new type of 3D printing geared specifically toward the recreation of complex biological environments.

Known as 3DEAL, this state-of-the-art bioprinting technique refers to 3D electrophoresis-assisted lithography, a new fabrication method capable of generating complex molecular patterns within soft matter such as hydrogels. Granting scientists complete spatial control over the engineered environment’s chemical composition, 3DEAL opens up a whole new opportunity to recreate natural scenarios found in the human body, such as 3D molecular gradients or patterns. Coupled with the fact that it’s a relatively straight-forward and inexpensive manufacturing technique, 3DEAL is especially promising because of its microscale resolution capabilities that can produce up to several centimetres in depth. If it takes off, the new type of bioengineering could be put to work improving drug screening platforms or building complex tissue engineered constructs.

As Mata explains, "the human body is largely made up of anisotropic, hierarchical, and mostly three dimensional structures. New ways to fabricate environments that can recreate physical and chemical features of such structures would have important implications in the way more efficient drugs are developed or more functional tissue and organ constructs can be engineered."

Retaining physical and chemical control over these recreated structures is a particularly exciting prospect, and a major selling point of the team’s new technology. One of 3DEAL’s key design features is the incorporation of an electrical field and porous mask which, when put to use together, allow researchers to move and localize to a tee various types of molecules within the hydrogel structures. When it comes to 3DEAL, microscale resolution is possible, as is working within extremely large volumes.

As co-author Primo notes, there are lots of benefits in 3DEAL that would make it attractive for industry application. "A major advantage of the technique is its robustness and cost-effectiveness,” he says. “It is simple and can be used with different types of readily available hydrogels and be patterned with different types of molecules."

Dietmar Hutmacher, a Queensland University of Technology-based expert in Regenerative Medicine Science and Engineering, confirms that new developments in fabricating biomimetic and anisotropic hydrogels have attracted serious interest in the scientific community. Innovations such as 3DEAL technology are part in parcel of those developments, and have effectively “widened the toolbox” available to scientists in the field.

In the future, the QMUL team hopes to create variations of their technique, which would ideally enable even more complex patterning. Increasing focus on specific applications in tissue engineering and in vitro models is also on the horizon for Mata and Primo.

The work was funded by the ERC Starting Grant Strofunscaff (Strong, functional, tunable, self-assembling hydrogel scaffolds for regenerative medicine), and was recently published in the scientific journal Advanced Functional Materials.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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