‘SLAM’ dunk: novel technique to improve the 3D printing of biomaterials

Researchers have developed a novel 3D printing technique, Suspended Layer Additive Manufacturing (SLAM), which creates a self-healing gel that could be utilized to improve the 3D printing of biomaterials.

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Oct 02, 2019

A team from the University of Birmingham (UK) have devised a novel 3D printing technique that will help overcome the issues faced by many in the additive manufacturing of biomaterials and other soft materials.

Artificial medical implants made from soft materials, such as gels and collagens, are often not well supported and overtime they can sag and lose their shape. However, this novel technique, Suspended Layer Additive Manufacturing (SLAM) avoids this problem.

SLAM uses polymer-based hydrogels where the particles have been altered to create a self-healing gel. Liquids or gels can then be injected directly into this medium and built up, layer by layer, to create the desired 3D shape. Additionally, SLAM gives researchers the option to make objects from two or more materials, opening doors for the development of complex soft tissue types or specialized drug delivery devices.

Existing methods, such as Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH), also use gels but, in these cases, the gels used are minced to form a slurry bath into which the printed material is injected. Despite the advances FRESH has provided, the frictions within the gel medium can negatively interfere with the printing.

The team used SLAM and showed the particles in their gel can be manipulated in a multitude of ways to separate them, but promisingly it still remained connected. This self-healing interaction allows the gel to support the printed material so objects can be built with precise details – without sagging or losing their shape. These findings were published in Advanced Functional Materials.

 “The hydrogel we have designed has some really intriguing properties that allow us to print soft materials in really fine detail,” explained Professor Grover, leader of the team at Birmingham. “It has huge potential for making replacement biomaterials such as heart valves or blood vessels or for producing biocompatible plugs, that can be used to treat bone and cartilage damage.”

Sources: Senior JJ, Cooke ME, Grover LM & Smith AM. Fabrication of Complex Hydrogel Structures Using Suspended Layer Additive Manufacturing (SLAM). Add. Funct. Matier.  (2019); Press release provided by the University of Birmingham   

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Zoe Campbell

Editor, Future Science Group

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