POSTECH researchers develop new 3D printing technology for nano-scale biopolymer printing

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3D printing of biopolymers (nucleic acids, polysaccharides, proteins) with nanoscale resolution
3D printing of biopolymers (nucleic acids, polysaccharides, proteins) with nanoscale resolution/Source: POSTECH

POSTECH researchers from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering have developed a ground-breaking 3D printing technology that directly allows nano-scale biopolymer printing with full mechanical stability and functional integrity. The research was led by Professor Seung Soo Oh, Professor Emeritus Jung Ho Je, Dr. Moon-Jung Yong, and Ph.D. candidates Un Yang and Byunghwa Kang.

Their findings were published in the journal Advanced Science.

Despite advances in 3D bioprinting, many biopolymers, such as nucleic acids, polysaccharides, and proteins, are still difficult to construct into a desired 3D shape at the submicron- or nanoscale due to their inherent rheological and structural properties. However, this new technology can now address the problem of nano-scale biopolymer printing.

Novel 3D Printing Technology for Nano-Scale Biopolymer Printing

New 3D printing technology for nano-scale biopolymer printing
New 3D printing technology for nano-scale biopolymer printing/Source: POSTECH

By sequentially confining, evaporating, and solidifying a biopolymer-containing solution, the research team has presented a novel 3D printing strategy that preserves the folding structure and molecular function of various biopolymers. 

This technique, regardless of biopolymer type, can produce 3D biopolymeric architectures with precisely controlled size and geometry at submicron resolution.

Furthermore, it enables the printed biopolymers to perform their own desired functions, allowing for the precise localization of spatiotemporal biofunctions such as molecular recognition and catalytic reactions.

“The significance of this research lies in proving for the first time the possibility of printing 100% functionally and structurally active biopolymers in ultrafine 3D structures.”

– Professor Seung Soo Oh, the POSTECH team leader

This 3D printing technique can be used in a variety of fields because it is based on the principle that at molecular levels, evaporation and solidification of pure biopolymer-containing solution occurs regardless of biopolymer type. Due to the mild processing environment of room temperature and ambient air without any additives, this printing process does not cause any damage or deformation to the biopolymers.

Professor Emeritus Jung Ho Je added, “It holds the potential to expand to the printing of various materials with diverse optical and electrical properties, including complex materials such as quantum dots and carbon nanotubes.”

This discovery is expected to have far-reaching implications in the development of materials capable of analysing and simulating microscale biological tissues. It can also be used to create artificial cells and tissues that can function properly in a biological environment, as well as biochips. The researchers intend to use their findings to create next-generation cell-mimicking device printing methods for clinical diagnostics and drug development.

The study was funded by the National Research Foundation and the Ministry of Science and ICT of Korea’s Basic Science Research Programme, Basic Research Laboratory Programme (Group Research), Basic Research Programme (Individual Research), STEAM Research Programme, Global Ph.D. Fellowship programme, and Brain Korea 21 FOUR Project.

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