To overcome this challenge, scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, report they have developed a 3D printing ink material using sunflower pollen, that could be used to fabricate parts useful for tissue engineering, toxicity testing, and drug delivery. The findings are published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials in a paper titled, “Engineering natural pollen grains as multifunctional 3D printing materials.” “Using an eco-friendly method to transform hard pollen grains into stimulus-responsive microgel particles, we engineered a pollen-derived microgel suspension that can serve as a functional reinforcement for composite hydrogel inks and as a supporting matrix for versatile freeform 3D printing systems.” Pollen responds to pH changes, which prompted the researchers to also test the viability of the 3D scaffold as a stimulus-responsive drug delivery system. “Pollen microgel particles have a hollow shell structure, which means they could potentially be used to carry drugs, cells, or biomolecules in drug delivery platforms with customized 3D structures. We are now looking at how we can use these pollen microgel scaffolds for 3D cell culture platforms in various biomedical applications,” said Cho Nam-Joon, PhD, professor of the NTU School of Materials Sciences and Engineering. The scientists also found that the soft and flexible pollen microgel particles, derived from tough pollen grains, could potentially serve as a recyclable support matrix, for use in freeform 3D printing, in which soft ink is deposited. “Compared with other classes of natural materials, pollen grains have several compelling features, including natural abundance, renewability, affordability, processing ease, monodispersity, and tunable rheological features, which make them attractive candidates to engineer advanced materials for 3D printing applications,” the researchers wrote.

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