We often see 3D printing technology used in science and medical fields such as drug discovery, neuroscience, and regenerative medicine, for applications ranging from 3D printing pills and making hearing aids to developing tissue scaffolds. German microfabrication expert and 3D printer manufacturer Nanoscribe, which released its ultra-high resolution Photonic Professional GT 3D printer back in 2015, knows what it’s talking about when it comes to nanotechnology and 3D microprinting, and recently worked with two separate research teams on 3D microprinting life sciences studies.
According to Nanoscribe, its technology “represents a versatile approach with the interplay of a high-resolution 3D printer and proprietary photo resin materials” in terms of making biocompatible 3D micro devices. The studies it helped with – one on cell regeneration and another on nerve interfacing – showcase how practical 3D printed micro-objects, which are harmless to living systems, can truly be.
Researchers with the University of Iowa developed a novel approach for producing ocular tissue by using 3D printed polymer scaffolds, which provide structural support for cells so they can proliferate and regenerate. The team successfully 3D printed porous scaffolds using off-the-shelf photo resin IP-S and Nanoscribe’s Photonic Professional GT 3D printer, and recently published the results of their work in a paper titled “Two-photon polymerization for production of human iPSC-derived retinal cell grafts.”
The abstract reads, “In the case of retinal degeneration and associated photoreceptor cell therapy, polymer scaffolds are critical for cellular survival and integration; however, prior attempts to materialize this concept have been unsuccessful in part due to the materials’ inability to guide cell alignment. In this work, we used two-photon polymerization to create 180 μm wide non-degradable prototype photoreceptor scaffolds with varying pore sizes, slicing distances, hatching distances and hatching types.”
Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) previously had poor rates of survival, because they did not have the help of supporting scaffolds to facilitate cell orientation. But the University of Iowa team differentiated the iPSCs into retinal progenitor cells, and then seeded them onto the 3D printed scaffolds.
According to the paper’s Statement of Significance, “Our findings demonstrate the feasibility of using two-photon polymerization to create scaffolds that can align neuronal cells in 3D and are large enough to be used for transplantation.”
The paper’s authors include Kristan S. Worthington, Luke A. Wiley, Emily E. Kaalberg, Malia M. Collins, Robert F. Mullins, Edwin M. Stone, and Budd A. Tucker, all from the university’s Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research.
The team was able to demonstrate the compatibility between its 3D printed porous scaffolds and ocular cells in its study: the cells not only survived, but actually adapted to their 3D printed environment. In the future, the 3D printed scaffolds could even use biodegradable materials with special features such as tunable microstructure and elastic modulus, which could help researchers develop a treatment for patients with late-stage neurodegeneration.
In the second study Nanoscribe assisted on, a research team from the Gardner Group at Boston University developed a 3D printed nerve interface, or nanoclip, in order to stimulate nerve activity.
The Boston team also used Nanoscribe’s Photonic Professional GT 3D printer for their bioelectronic medicine study, and utilized its photo resin IP-Dip to 3D print the nanoclip, which can be built around different electrode materials; the researchers built theirs around carbon nanotube fibers for minimally invasive tethering.
Co-authors Charles A. Lissandrello, Winthrop F. Gillis, Jun Shen, Ben W. Pearre, Flavia Vitale, Matteo Pasquali, Bradley J. Holinski, Daniel J. Chew, Alice E. White, and Timothy J. Gardner published a paper on their results, titled “A micro-scale printable nanoclip for electrical stimulation and recording in small nerves,” in the Journal of Neural Engineering.
The abstract reads, “The vision of bioelectronic medicine is to treat disease by modulating the signaling of visceral nerves near various end organs. In small animal models, the nerves of interest can have small diameters and limited surgical access. New high-resolution methods for building nerve interfaces are desirable. In this study, we present a novel nerve interface and demonstrate its use for stimulation and recording in small nerves.”
The team transplanted its 3D printed, micro-scale nanoclip, which can interface with nerves as small as 50 µm in diameter, into a zebra finch, and then tracked the stimulation-evoked responses of its tracheal syringeal (hypoglossal) nerve. The researchers were able to successfully register the bird’s healthy nerve activity over, as Nanoscribe puts it, “sub-chronic timescales with the nanoclip implant in performance.”
To put it in a more easily understandable way, they were able to successfully implant a synthetic 3D printed device into a living animal without harming it.
The paper’s abstract concludes, “Our nerve interface addresses key challenges in interfacing with small nerves in the peripheral nervous system. Its small size, ability to remain on the nerve over sub-chronic timescales, and ease of implantation, make it a promising tool for future use in the treatment of disease.”
Nanoscribe’s innovative technology being used in these two life science studies represented how a 3D printer and 3D printable materials can help to successfully fabricate biocompatible micro-objects.
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