Researchers from the MIT Media Lab, Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have developed a method to 3D print objects that can control organisms.
Dubbed as the Hybrid Living Material (HLM) fabrication platform, the team used a multi-material inkjet-based 3D printer and customized recipes for the combinations of resins and chemical signals. These signals activate certain responses in biologically engineered microbes and demonstrate the potential for medical devices with therapeutic agents.
“Imagine, for example, a wearable interface designed to guide ad-hoc antibiotic formation customized to fit the genetic makeup of its user,” said Neri Oxman, MIT Media Lab Associate Professor and leader of the research published in Advanced Functional Materials.
“Or, consider smart packaging that can detect contamination or environmentally responsive architectural skins that can respond and adapt — in real-time — to environmental cues.”
Hybrid Living Materials
According to the researchers, biohybrid materials combine living and nonliving components to create multifunctional biological systems such as bio-bots and bioreactors. Using additive manufacturing, such materials can produce biomedical tools that incorporate cells to produce therapeutic compounds including painkillers or topical treatments.
Within the HLM platform, a soluble support resin is used with a structural resin material to produce 3D printed parts that become absorbent and capable of retaining chemical signals to control the behavior of living organisms – in this case genetically modified E. coli bacteria. This was used in tandem with a system designed to predict patterning of the biological behavior across the 3D printed object.
“We can define very specific shapes and distributions of the hybrid living materials and the biosynthesized products, whether they be colors or therapeutic agents, within the printed shapes,” explained Rachel Soo Hoo Smith, Graduate student, MIT Mediated Matter Group.
“Some of the initial test shapes were made as silver-dollar-sized disks, and others in the form of colorful face masks, with the colors provided by the living bacteria within their structure. The colors take several hours to develop as the bacteria grow, and then remain stable once they are in place.”
Unmasking new medical applications
The HLM platform can utilize three to seven different resins with different properties, mixed in any proportions with synthetic biological engineering. This enables a plethora of 3D printed objects with biological surfaces that can be programmed to respond to stimuli such as light, temperature or chemical signals, the study deduces.
“Combining computational design, additive manufacturing, and synthetic biology, the HLM platform points toward the far-reaching impact these technologies may have across seemingly disparate fields, ‘enlivening’ design and the object space,” added Professor Oxman.
“In the future, the pigments included in the masks can be replaced with useful chemical substances for human augmentation such as vitamins, antibodies or antimicrobial drugs.”
“Hybrid Living Materials: Digital Design and Fabrication of 3D Multimaterial Structures with Programmable Biohybrid Surfaces,” is co-authored by Rachel Soo Hoo Smith, Christoph Bader, Sunanda Sharma, Dominik Kolb, Tzu‐Chieh Tang, Ahmed Hosny, Felix Moser, James C. Weaver, Christopher A. Voigt, and Neri Oxman.
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Featured image shows a series of masks 3D printed containing chemical signals embedded in the material. Photo via the Media Lab’s Mediated Matter Group.