Rutgers Biomedical Engineers develop “bio-ink” that could be used for human tissue growth
A study recently published in the journal “Biointerphases” discussed the work of Rutgers biomedical engineers in the development of their version of bio-ink, a substance made of living cells used in 3D printing. Specifically, the materials created from this bio-ink could serve as scaffolds for the growth of human tissues.
The study was led by senior author David I. Shreiber, a professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, along with lead author Madison D. Godesky, who recently earned her doctorate in biomedical engineering. Shreiber said that the study has been going on for approximately four years now, but the path has changed from their original plan.
“We didn’t set out trying to design a bio-ink,” Shreiber said. “We actually had a project that was a bigger collaboration with some other investigators here to build a nerve graft for peripheral nerves.”
Shreiber said that the original project entailed developing a tube and a filler that would allow nerves to regenerate and reconnect to where they had to go, similar to a bridge or scaffold. He said that the Rutgers team was in charge of making the filler and wanted to use Type I collagen, a common material used in regenerative medicine, to accomplish this.
“(The collagen) had proved to be incompatible with the tube and so we went looking for another filler,” Shreiber said. “Then, as we were using another material, we recognized that it had potential for a bio-ink.”
Although there are other people doing similar work with bio-inks, Shreiber said that what they are looking at with this ink is to build a custom environment where they can mix all of the right properties together in order to come up with something that is specific to a certain location that they are printing for.
The ink is made up of a gel consisting of hyaluronic acid and polyethylene glycol, according to the study. It will combine with other inks in the future to be able to achieve customization of different properties for tissues.
“(Bio-inks) are a lot like the ink jet cartridges in your printer: you want this color and you want that color, then you mix these for different combinations, we envisioned something like that,” Shreiber said. “Cartridges, that when mixed, will control the stiffness, different ligands, different cells and you can customize what the properties are in specific locations.”
Shreiber said that this ability to independently control the properties within their bio-ink is what makes it different from others that are out there. He also talked about the ways that similar products are being used today, and where this field is headed in the future.
“(Three-dimensional) printing is being used in things like dental implants and facial reconstruction, where you need something specific to a patient,” Shreiber said. “That’s kind of where the first 3D printing has assisted in regenerative medicine.”
He said a big accomplishment has been customizing the shapes of scaffolds. Next, he said there will be scaffolds customized by their materials, then living scaffolds printed with cells and science will only get more complicated from there. The field of tissue engineering has been around for approximately between 25 and 30 years, and it is just now that these scientific developments are coming out, Shreiber said.
“The thing about this work in regenerative medicine is that generally there’s not one person who takes something from the start and gets it across the finish line,” Shreiber said. “Hopefully we figure all of the problems out, but it’s still got a little ways to go before we’ll be printing livers and what not for an individual.”
Moving forward, Shreiber said they are going to have to find people who are experts in 3D printing, find new collaborators, make adjustments and try new approaches.
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