A team of biomedical engineers from Tufts University has been printing with silk inks containing biomolecular elements that could have a wide range of medical applications.
The research, published in the journal Advanced Materials, details how the team used inkjet printing to create materials such as bandages and medical gloves using purified silk protein, or fibroin.
According to the research, this natural polymer’s intrinsic strength makes it suitable for a range of biomedical and optoelectronic applications. Using it as a base material or “cocoon”, the team were able to infuse the fibroin with biomolecules such as enzymes, antibiotics, antibodies, nanoparticles and growth factors.
Combined with traditional inkjet printing technology, the “custom library” of new materials could be transformed into a range of smart medical equipment, such as bacteria-sensing surgical gloves that changed from blue to red when exposed to E. coli.
“We thought that if we were able to develop an inkjet-printable silk solution, we would have a universal building block to generate multiple functional printed formats that could lead to a wide variety of applications in which inks remain active over time,” explained Fiorenzo Omenetto, senior author on the paper and associate dean for research and Frank C. Doble Professor of Engineering at Tufts School of Engineering.
Omenetto, who has previously delivered a Ted Talk on the properties of silk and its use in materials science, believes the research paves the way for a wide range of medical applications. As well as different types of bio-sensing gloves that could detect various pathogens, the technology could also be used to develop ‘smart’ bandages, where antibiotics were embedded in the fabric.
Fiorenzo Omenetto: Silk, the ancient material of the future
Other research carried out by the team included gold nanoparticles printed on paper, with possible applications in photonics and biology, as well as proteins that stimulate bone growth printed on a plastic dish to test topographical control of directed tissue growth.