New Biocompatible Ink for Heart Valve Repair

Biocompatible ink solidifies into different 3D shapes and structures by absorbing ultrasound waves.

Image credits: Duke University

Engineers at Duke University and Harvard Medical School have developed a biocompatible ink that solidifies into different 3D shapes and structures by absorbing ultrasound waves. Because it responds to sound waves rather than light, the ink can be used in deep tissues for biomedical purposes ranging from bone healing to heart valve repair.

The uses of 3D-printing tools are ever-increasing. Printers create prototypes of medical devices, design flexible, lightweight electronics, and even engineer tissues used in wound healing. However, many of these printing techniques involve building the object point-by-point in a slow and arduous process that often requires a robust printing platform, reports Duke University.

To circumvent these issues over the past several years, researchers developed a photo-sensitive ink that responds directly to targeted beams of light and quickly hardens into a desired structure. While this printing technique can substantially improve the speed and quality of a print, researchers can only use transparent inks for the prints, and biomedical purposes are limited, as light can’t reach beyond a few millimeters deep into the tissue.

Now, Y. Shrike Zhang, associate bioengineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and Junjie Yao, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke, have developed a new printing method called deep-penetrating acoustic volumetric printing, or DVAP, that resolves these problems.

This new technique involves a specialized ink that reacts to sound waves rather than light, enabling them to create biomedically useful structures at unprecedented tissue depths.

Read more: Silicone 3D Printing Paving the Way for Soft Robotics and Wearables

"DVAP relies on the sono-thermal effect, which occurs when soundwaves are absorbed and increase the temperature to harden our ink," explained Yao, who designed the ultrasound printing technology for DVAP. "Ultrasound waves can penetrate more than 100 times deeper than light while still spatially confined, so we can reach tissues, bones, and organs with high spatial precision that haven’t been reachable with light-based printing methods."

The first component of DVAP involves a sonicated ink, called sono-ink, that is a combination of hydrogels, microparticles, and molecules designed to specifically react to ultrasound waves. Once the sono-ink is delivered into the target area, a specialized ultrasound printing probe sends focused ultrasound waves into the ink, hardening portions of it into intricate structures. These structures can range from a hexagonal scaffold that mimics the hardness of bone to a bubble of hydrogel that can be placed on an organ.

"The ink itself is a viscous liquid, so it can be injected into a targeted area fairly easily, and as you move the ultrasound printing probe around, the materials in the ink will link together and harden," said Zhang, who designed the sono-ink in his lab at the Brigham. "Once it’s done, you can remove any remaining ink that isn’t solidified via a syringe."

"Because we can print through tissue, it allows for a lot of potential applications in surgery and therapy that traditionally involve very invasive and disruptive methods," said Yao. "This work opens up an exciting new avenue in the 3D printing world, and we’re excited to explore the potential of this tool together."

Sam Draper
January 5, 2024

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