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4D Printer to Create Synthetic Biological Surfaces

Researchers at the City University of New York and Northwestern University have developed a printer capable of creating highly detailed surfaces precisely loaded with a variety of organic and biological molecules. The technology allows the researchers to create objects that resemble the surfaces of living cells, something that may prove extremely useful in developing biomedical sensors, for the study of diseases, as well as for the development of new drugs.

The technology powering the new printer brings together aspects of nanolithography, microfluidics, and organic chemistry while avoiding photomasks and clean room requirements.

“I am often asked if I’ve used this instrument to print a specific chemical or prepare a particular system,” said Adam Braunschweig, the primary investigator of a study appearing in Nature Communications, in a press release. “My response is that we’ve created a new tool for performing organic chemistry on surfaces, and its usage and application are only limited by the imagination of the user and their knowledge of organic chemistry.”

The technique has been dubbed Polymer Brush Hypersurface Photolithography, and it lets users create synthetic materials that have the exact molecules and texture at every voxel.

“Researchers have been working toward using lithographic techniques to pattern surfaces with biomolecules, but to date we haven’t developed a system sophisticated enough to construct something as complicated as a cell surface,” added Daniel Valles, another researcher on the study. “We envision using this system to assemble synthetic cells that allow researchers to replicate and understand the interactions that occur on living cells, which will lead to the rapid development of medicines and other bioinspired technologies.”

To show what is possible using the new printer, the team created polymer brush patterns with different heights at every point on the object’s surface, which is shown in the image of the Statue of Liberty above.

The next steps will involve fine tuning the system, speeding it up, and making each voxel a little smaller, in addition to allowing more chemicals to be used by the printer.

Image: The above Lady Liberty image illustrates the capabilities of polymer brush hypersurface photolithography. Fluorescent polymer brushes were printed from initiators on the surface, and variations in color densities correspond to differences in polymer heights, which can be controlled independently at each pixel in the image. (Credit: The Advanced Science Research Center)

Study in Nature Communications: Polymer brush hypersurface photolithography


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