This pollen-derived ink is able to hold its shape when deposited onto a surface, making it a viable alternative to current inks used for 3D printing in the biomedical field (also known as bioprinting). Such inks are usually soft and delicate, making it a challenge to retain the final product's desired 3D shape and structure as the bioprinter deposits the ink layer by layer.
To illustrate the functionality of their pollen-based 3D printing ink, the NTU Singapore scientists printed a biological tissue 'scaffold' that in lab studies was shown to be suitable for cell adhesion and growth, which are essential for tissue regeneration.
This novel use for pollen, described in a scientific paper that was the cover feature of scientific journal Advanced Functional Materials, highlights its potential as a sustainable alternative material to current bioprinting inks, said the research team.
Bioprinting is challenging
The study's co-lead author Professor Cho Nam-Joon of the NTU School of Materials Sciences and Engineering said: "Bioprinting can be challenging because the material of the inks used is typically too soft, which means the structure of the envisioned product may collapse during printing. Through tuning the mechanical properties of sunflower pollen, we developed a pollen-based hybrid ink that can be used to print structures with good structural integrity. Utilizing pollen for 3D printing is a significant achievement as the process of making the pollen-based ink is sustainable and affordable. 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 co-lead author Assistant Professor Song Juha from the NTU School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering said: "Our findings could open new doors to customized flexible membranes that fit the human skin's contours exactly, such as wound dressing patches or facial masks. Such soft and flexible membranes are usually manufactured based on flat geometry, thus resulting in problems such as fractures in the layers or a poor fit when applied on large surface areas of skin, such as the face or areas that see frequent movement like the joints. Using our pollen-based 3D printing ink, which is biocompatible, flexible, and low in cost, we can fabricate membranes that are tailored to the contours of the human skin and are capable of bending without breaking."