Here at 3D Rapid Print, one of the fastest growing 3D Printing companies in the Thames Valley, we like to keep abreast of the latest innovations in 3D printing.

On August 26th 2021, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) of Singapore announced that a group of its scientists had found a way to turn sunflower pollen into 3D printing ink, with potential applications in tissue engineering, toxicity testing and drug delivery. To make their ink, the team incubated sunflower pollen in an alkaline solution for 6 hours to form pollen microgel particles, which were then mixed with hydrogels such as alginate or hyaluronic acid. (Alginate is a naturally occurring polymer obtainable from brown seaweed. Hyaluronic acid is a clear and gooey substance naturally produced by the human body.) Their research was published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

NTU argued that inks currently used in bioprinting are usually soft and delicate, ergo it is difficult to have what is being printed retain its shape during printing, ergo the ink needs to be deposited within a supporting structure during this time. However, the support structure cannot be used again after printing, creating waste material. In contrast, NTU proclaimed that its ink could hold its shape during printing, making it a viable alternative to current similar inks.

To experiment with their ink, the team 3D printed a 5-layer tissue scaffolding structure, to which collagen was added to provide points that human cells could adhere to and grow. Human cells were then seeded onto the scaffold, where the team found the structure to have a comparable performance to hydrogels widely used as 3D cell culture platforms that NTU claimed would be too time-consuming to make.

Secondly, given that pollen responds to environmental pH changes, the team also tested the viability of the 3D printed scaffold as a stimulus-responsive drug delivery system. When a fluorescent red dye was dripped onto the scaffold, it was found that the pollen microgel particles gradually released the dye into the scaffold, such that the amount and rate of release increased with the addition of an acid. The team concluded that this showed that there was potential for the pollen scaffold to be used as a drug delivery system with controlled release.

Finally, the team found that the pollen microgel particles could serve as a recyclable support structure. To test the feasibility of this, they 3D printed a silicon rubber mesh for the human elbow, using pollen microgel as the support structure that would help the mesh retain its shape during printing. After curing the mesh at 75°C (167°F) for 24 hours inside the pollen microgel, the team found that it could adapt to the curvature of the human elbow and had mechanical properties similar to those of meshes made via conventional means. The team now intends to work with industry to refine their 3D printing technology and better commercialise it.

3D printing is an amazing tool. It can grow your small business or start a mini revolution in an industry. Explore what it can do for you when you contact us today.

Disclaimer: Featured image of “Sunflower pollen (Unsplash)” has been dedicated to the public domain by its author (known only as Asgeir Pall Juliusson) under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.