3D-bioprinting replacement body parts require the use of bio-inks that are not only biocompatible but are also strong yet flexible at the same time. Currently used materials, however, have a hard time supporting themselves, which means that they have to be printed with supporting structures that are subsequently removed and discarded, adding to both printing time and wasted material.
In a bid to come up with a better alternative, scientists at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University have developed a pollen-based 3D-bioprinting ink that just might do the job. As part of the study, the researchers first incubated sunflower pollen in an alkaline solution for six hours — a process that converted the hard pollen grains into softer (but still tough) microgel particles. Those particles were then mixed into an existing hydrogel to increase its strength.
Next, the team added collagen to the bioscaffold to provide anchor points for human tissue cells which were seeded onto the structure. As reported by New Atlas, the researchers found that the bioscaffold was 96 to 97 percent efficient at retaining those cells and could go on to reproduce and create new biological tissue.
Another advantage of the pollen microgel particles is that they could eventually be used to transport medication within the body, gradually releasing it as they dissolve. The particles could also be triggered to dissolve at a certain time or place inside the body, with the help of a special acid.
“Utilizing pollen for 3D printing is a significant achievement as the process of making the pollen-based ink is sustainable and affordable,” says study leader Prof. Cho Nam-Joon. “Given that there are numerous types of pollen species with distinct sizes, shapes, and surface properties, pollen microgel suspensions could potentially be used to create a new class of eco-friendly 3D printing materials.”
Study source: Advanced Functional Materials — Engineering Natural Pollen Grains as Multifunctional 3D Printing Materials