Deciphering the Discipline

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deciphering the discipline Swetha Barkam A monthly column offering the student perspective of the next generation of ceramic and glass scientists, organized by the ACerS Presidents Council of Student Advisors (PCSA). Experiences and challenges in 3-D printing When most people hear “3-D printing,” they think of polymer-based technologies. But 3-D printing can reach beyond polymers. Because of the advancement of additive manufacturing technologies since the mid-1980s, numerous applications have benefited from faster product development with minimal use of specialized tools. What intrigues me is the potential of 3-D printing to bridge the gap between biomedical technology and engineering to make biomedical devices. The ability to build interconnected porous scaffolds with designed shapes, sizes, and modulated chemistries makes 3-D printing fascinating, yet challenging. Most 3-D-printed biomedical objects are designed for drug delivery, so they are biodegradable and consist of many biomolecules. But it is challenging to create a smart combination of biomolecules that can be designed and printed into a 3-D object. My foray into 3-D printing started when my University of Central Florida research group supervisor, Sudipta Seal, wondered whether we could make human body parts using silk polymer. We purchased a 3-D printer and integrated it with syringe pumps, creating an in-house system to test the idea. Currently I am working with a proteinbased polymer, silk fibroin, to determine if its chemistry can be rendered suitable for 3-D printing. Silk polymer that is biocompatible and biodegradable can act like a natural polymer base for creating artificial tissue. I extract silk fibroin polymer from the Bombyx mori silkworm cocoon and modify its chemistry to perfect its consistency. Disclaimer: No silkworms are harmed in this process. Additionally, this silk polymer can be mixed with other biomolecules, bioceramic nanoparticles, or live cells to increase the final product’s ability to regenerate tissues. My research group is currently perfecting composition and chemistry of such novel hybrid silk solutions. The solution ultimately must have functionalities such as mechanical integrity and tissue regeneration in addition to biocompatibility and biodegradability, which in themselves are more than half of the challenge. Beyond material challenges, modeling and printing itself are crucial steps of the process. 3-D printable models can be created using computer-aided design (CAD) packages, which covert data to 3-D printer-compatible G-code. Manually creating geometric data for 3-D graphics is similar to sculpting, making it a creative and exciting process. Presently, my research group is using 3-D CAD models to print control polymer solutions to optimize object design before printing with silk solutions. My research group is exploring creation of artificial tissues, such as noses and ears, and eventually aims to 3-D-print those tissue structures using live cells. Another important potential biomedical Guest columnist application of 3-D printing is creating artificial skin grafts for wound healing. In fact, the future of tissue engineering is closely portrayed in the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which character Helen Cho repairs Hawkeye’s fresh wound using a combination of 3-D printing and synthetic tissue technology consisting of biomaterials with nanomolecular regeneration powers. 3-D printing for biomedical applications combines chemistry, biology, engineering, and medicine and could revolutionize personal medicine by tailoring medical products, drugs, and equipment to individual patients. 3-D printing offers distinct benefits to medicine, including increased productivity, cost-effectiveness, collaboration, and, most importantly, democratization of design and manufacturing. Potential biomedical applications of additive manufacturing are far-reaching— skin grafts, synthetic tissue regeneration, organ replacement, customized prosthetics, personalized implants, and anatomical models to study medical science, for example. Advancements in this field are ushering in some exciting future trends, such as bioprinting of complex organs and in-situ printing of organ parts during medical operations. Collaboration of researchers across disciplines will be a critical step to revolutionize this rapidly developing field. Swetha Barkam is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at University of Central Florida. She was recently selected to be inducted into the Order of Pegasus, the university’s most prestigious student award for academic excellence and community service. Barkam is a member of ACerS President’s Council of Student Advisors and previously has served as president of Material Advantage and the Materials Research Society at UCF. She paints using acrylics in her leisure time, combining abstract art with science. n Credit: Swetha Barkam Swetha Barkam works on a 3-D printing machine to create artificial skin for biomedical applications. 56 www.ceramics.org | American Ceramic Society Bulletin, Vol. 95, No. 3


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