Led by Queen Mary University of London, the researchers have created structures embedded in an ink, which they said is similar to their native environment and opens the possibility of making them behave as they would in the body.
This would allow researchers to observe cells within these environments and potentially enable them to study cancer growth or the interaction of immune cells with other cells, which could lead to the development of new drugs.
The structures can be manufactured under digital control and with molecular precision which also enables the researchers to create constructs that mimic body parts or tissues for tissue engineering or regenerative medicine.
The study is published in Advanced Functional Materials.
Prof Alvaro Mata, from Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, said: “The technique opens the possibility to design and create biological scenarios like complex and specific cell environments, which can be used in different fields such as tissue engineering by creating constructs that resemble tissues or in vitro models that can be used to test drugs in a more efficient manner.”
The technique is said to integrate the micro- and macroscopic control of structural features that printing provides with the molecular and nano-scale control enabled by self-assembly. Because of this, it addresses a major need in 3D printing where commonly used printing inks have limited capacity to actively stimulate the cells that are being printed.
PhD student Clara Hedegaard, lead author of the paper, added: “This method enables the possibility to build 3D structures by printing multiple types of biomolecules capable of assembling into well-defined structures at multiple scales.
“Because of this, the self-assembling ink provides an opportunity to control the chemical and physical properties during and after printing, which can be tuned to stimulate cell behaviour.”
The study was carried out in collaboration with the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and Oxford University.