Researchers create living 3D printing ink, with applications including a cancer treatment
Researchers at Harvard University and Brigham and Women's Hospital at Harvard Medical School have developed a living ink that could be used to print functional living materials using regular 3D printing machines. While bioprinting is well-established, no method before this one has succeeded in engineering the bioink in such a way that allows the genetically programmed microbes within the ink to control its mechanical properties.
The first ink the team developed was made entirely of E. coli biofilms, where some genetically programmed E. coli bacteria are added to the microbial ink. Initially, the team focused on developing nanofibers from the bacteria. The researchers then took these fibres and combined them to create the living bioink.
The research team has managed to create several types of living inks using a variety of microbial fibres. Applications for the various inks include a material that could produce an anti-cancer drug on demand and another material that isolates Bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic chemical.
The researchers believe that these bioinks could create themselves through the engineered microbes, which would cause the microorganisms in the ink to multiply. They also think that eventually, the technique could allow scientists to create a self-repairing material, which could be used in applications such as renewable buildings. These would be particularly useful in situations where resources are limited, for example, when building in space.