A researcher from Texas A&M University has come up with a novel bioprinting technique that overcomes a number of existing challenges in printing 3D therapeutics for regenerative medicine. At the crux of the breakthrough is a new nanoclay platform, which makes bioprinting growth factors more feasible.
One of the hurdles facing bioprinting researchers today is the ability to properly control cellular functions. Incorporating growth factors, which are a special class of protein, into bioprinting materials can help to control and direct cellular functions, though up until now they have been challenging to integrate into a printed structure.
Dr. Akhilesh K Gaharwar and his lab in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Texas A&M University were determined to find a solution to this challenge, and they have made some headway in a recent study. In short, the researchers have created a bioink made up of 2D mineral nanoparticles that make it possible to sequester and 3D print therapeutics at precise locations.
The study, published in Advanced Healthcare Materials, details the development of a new class of hydrogel bioinks packed with therapeutic proteins. The innovative bioink is made from an inert polymer material—polyethylene glycol (PEG)—which is non-reactive with the body’s immune system.
However, the polymer is notoriously difficult to 3D print, so the researchers combined the PEG with nanoparticles, resulting in a hydrogel that was not only printable, but could also support cell growth. According to the research team, it may even have enhanced printability compared to other polymer hydrogels.
The technology is based on a nanoclay platform pioneered by Dr. Gaharwar, which enables the precise deposition of protein therapeutics. Interestingly, the bioink material has special sheer-thinning properties that make it easy to inject and enable it to quickly stop flowing and cure to stay in place.
“This formulation using nanoclay sequesters the therapeutic of interest for increased cell activity and proliferation,” explained Dr. Charles W. Peak, senior author on the study. “In addition, the prolonged delivery of the bioactive therapeutic could improve cell migration within 3D printed scaffolds and can help in rapid vascularization of scaffolds.”
By controlling and prolonging the delivery of therapeutics in the bioprinted structure, there is the potential to reduce overall costs by decreasing the therapeutic concentration. Other benefits, such as minimizing side effects caused by supraphysiological doses, could also be achieved.