Various research groups are testing “ink” produced from silk proteins to print human tissues, implants and human organs. The process is much more affordable compared to conventional 3-D printing with collagen, a key protein in the body’s natural scaffolding.
Researchers in Assam, a state in India, are investigating using local silkworm species for the task—they recently submitted a patent for bioinks using a combination of proteins extracted from local species Antheraea assamensis and Samia ricini, as well as the commonly used Bombyx mori. The scientists have woven them into synthetic structures ranging from blood vessels to liver lobes; in a paper published in September in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, they described mimicking the cartilage of an entire ear.
Mechanically strong and completely biodegradable, and highly suited for applications in tissue engineering, is silk, a natural polymer with long, repeating molecular chains.
To use it, researchers draw liquid silk from the silkworm's glands or dissolve silk fibers in solvents. They carefully mix the gelatinous liquid with a patient's stem cells, then build structures layer by layer with a 3-D printer. After implantation, the cells grow and replace the silken scaffold, which eventually degenerates into amino acids.
More details about this can be found over at Scientific American.
(Image Credit: Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati)