Inkjet inks made of bioactive silk could yield smart bandages and other innovations

June 17, 2015 by Kim Thurler, Tufts University
When printed on surgical gloves in functional silk inks doped with bacteria-sensing agents, the word "contaminated" changed from blue to red after exposure to E. coli.

Silk inks containing enzymes, antibiotics, antibodies, nanoparticles and growth factors could turn inkjet printing into a new, more effective tool for therapeutics, regenerative medicine and biosensing, according to new research led by Tufts University biomedical engineers and published June 16 in the journal Advanced Materials online in advance of print.

Inkjet printing is one of the most immediate and accessible forms of currently available, according to the researchers, and ink-jet printing of biomolecules has been previously proposed by scientists. However, the heat-sensitive nature of these unstable compounds means printed materials rapidly lose functionality, limiting their use.

Enter purified silk protein, or fibroin, which offers intrinsic strength and protective properties that make it well-suited for a range of biomedical and optoelectronic applications. This natural polymer is an ideal "cocoon" that can stabilize compounds such as enzymes, antibodies and while lending itself to many different mechanically robust formats, said Fiorenzo Omenetto, Ph.D., senior author on the paper and associate dean for research and Frank C. Doble Professor of Engineering at Tufts School of Engineering.

"We thought that if we were able to develop an inkjet-printable silk solution, we would have a universal building block to generate multiple functional printed formats that could lead to a wide variety of applications in which inks remain active over time," he said.

By using this simple approach and starting with the same base material, the research team created and tested a "custom library" of inkjet-printable, functional silk inks doped with a variety of components:

  • Bacterial-sensing polydiacetylenes (PDAs) printed on surgical gloves; the word "contaminated" printed on the glove changed from blue to red after exposure to E. coli
  • Proteins that stimulate bone growth (BMP-2) printed on a plastic dish to test topographical control of directed tissue growth
  • Sodium ampicillin printed on a bacterial culture to test the effectiveness of a topographical distribution of the antibiotic
  • Gold printed on paper, for possible application in photonics and biology (e.g., color engineering, based sensing and bio-imaging)
  • Enzymes printed on paper to test the ability of the ink to entrain small functional biomolecules

The researchers, who included collaborators from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, foresee wide potential for future investigation and application of this technology.

For example, Omenetto envisions more work on the bio-sensing gloves, which he says could selectively react to different pathological agents. The ability to print in topographical patterns could address the need for "smart" bandages, where therapeutics are incorporated and delivered to match a complex injury.

The published research was restricted to one ink cartridge, but the scientists believe it could extend to multi-cartridge printing combining complex functions.

Explore further: Printing 3-D graphene structures for tissue engineering

More information: "Inkjet Printing of Regenerated Silk Fibroin: From Printable Forms to Printable Functions." Adv. Mater.. DOI: 10.1002/adma.201501425

Related Stories

Printing 3-D graphene structures for tissue engineering

May 19, 2015

Ever since single-layer graphene burst onto the science scene in 2004, the possibilities for the promising material have seemed nearly endless. With its high electrical conductivity, ability to store energy, and ultra-strong ...

Inkjet printing process for kesterite solar cells

May 6, 2015

A research team at HZB has developed an inkjet printing technology to produce kesterite thin film absorbers (CZTSSe). Based on the inkjet-printed absorbers, solar cells with total area conversion efficiency of up to 6.4% ...

Method for printing memory circuits directly

April 15, 2015

VTT has developed a method for printing memory circuits directly, e.g. onto consumer packaging. Because the required production technology is quite simple, no major investments are required.

Recommended for you

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.