Inkjet Printers could soon make bacteria-sensing material

Inkjet printers are known for  printing pictures with vivid colors, high contrasts and virtually no pixelation. They are relatively cheap to run, come at a more compact size and are the family favourite for printing photos or other important colourful documents.

But did you know the inkjet printer technology is being tested as a more effective tool for therapeutics, regenerative medicine and bio-sensing? Tufts University in Massachusetts’ bio engineers have been conducting research into  purified silk protein – also known as fibroin – which offers incredible strength and protective properties that make it perfect for a range of bio-medical and X-ray applications.

The silk

This natural polymer is able to stabilise compounds such as enzymes and antibodies whist remaining mechanically robust. Frank C. Doble Professor of Engineering is quoted “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…” 

inkjet printing bio

Functional inkjet printed equipment 

The research team have been able to create and test a few inkjet-printable, functional silk inks created to work with various components to test functionality in the field:

  • Bacterial-sensing polydiacetylenes (PDAs) printed  on surgical  gloves – e.g. words 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 tissue growth
  • Sodium ampicillin printed on a bacterial culture to test the distribution of the antibiotic

The future in hospital care

The researchers at the university, who included collaborators from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, hope to see a massive interest and future investigation let alone application of this inkjet printed silk technology.  A key part of their research will be to develop bio-sensing gloves, which are said could selectively react to different pathological agents.

The gloves would work by having bacteria-sensing particles woven into the silk which will only show up when in contact with a type of bacteria. Or, ‘smart bandages’ could be developed to react to different wounds, or create labels intrinsically woven into the material. 

smart materials

This published research was restricted to one ink cartridge at the moment, but these incredible scientists believe the technology could extend to multi-cartridge printing and combine many complex functions in public and private health care.

Images sourced via Tufts University Press Center.  morphosys.com and livescience.com – Credit: Omenetto Laboratory/Tufts University.

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