Using a stereolithographic technique, biomaterials can now be printed for the purpose of being put through a controlled degradation using ionic crosslinking. This, in turn, could become useful for new applications that require a biomaterial that is adaptive and responsive to certain stimuli such as drug delivery applications.

Stereolithographic printing typically uses photoactive polymers that link together with covalent bonds — which are strong, but irreversible. A research team from Brown University experimented with using potentially reversible ionic bonds to create 3D printed structures.

A simplistic view would of using a 3D printer is to build attachments between polymers then remove them when needed. Basically building a support for a structure then removing the support once the structure is ok to stand on its own. They can pattern the transient structures then dissolve away when needed.

Using different compounds derived from seaweed and using different combinations of ionic salts, researchers were able to create structures with a varying stiffness that could be dissolved away at different rates.

The research demonstrated that temporary alginate structures could be useful for making lab-on-a-chip devices with complex microfluidic channels and for making dynamic environments for experiments with live cells. To demonstrate, researchers surrounded alginate barriers with human mammary cells and observed how the cells migrated when the barrier was dissolved.

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