Manchester Biogel-Understanding Inks For Bioprinting v2

Understanding Inks for Bioprinting

Three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting marries the benefits of developmental biology, stem cells and 3D printing to combine different biomolecules, biomaterials and cell types into a predefined position in a printed composite architecture. Bioprinting requires the use of specialist bioprinting inks. 3D bioprinting has raised the study of organ and tissue engineering to the next level and has played a significant part in the study of disease pathogens.

What is Bioink?

Bioink is an essential part of the bioprinting process, being a mix of bioactive molecules, cells and biomaterials to create a 3D printed article.

Bioinks mimic the extracellular matrix (ECM) environment, supporting cell adhesion, differentiation, and printing proliferation. To do so, a bioink must contain non-toxic bioactive components that can be modified by the intrinsic cells after printing. They must also include gelation conditions or mild cross-linking ability and have printing temperatures not exceeding the physiological temperature.

What types of Bioink are available?

There are four main types of bioink for 3D bioprinting available, including animal-derived to facilitate adapted scaffolding for structural and functional cell organisation. In addition to this, we have natural bioinks which are suitable for several tissue engineering applications possessing unique biodegradability and biocompatibility. Polymer-based bioink is ideal for physical cross-linking via hydrogen bonding, having medium to high viscosity in solutions based on concentration. Lastly, we have Peptide-based bioink, bioprinting PeptiInks, specially formulated for accurate 3D bioprinting to mimic the extracellular matrix with its nanofibrous network for advanced 3D cell culture applications. 

Bioprinting Techniques

Six main bioprinting techniques are currently used. Inkjet-based bioprinting allows for non-contact printing using droplets of dilute solutions dispensed through piezoelectric, thermal or microvalve printing techniques. Extrusion-based bioprinting comprises a series of processes and sequential layer-by-layer delivery to manufacturing objects according to pre-set computer-aided design data. Another method uses light-reactive thermoset materials known as Stereolithography (SLA) bioprinting exposed to light wavelengths to join molecular chains together to give solidified flexible or rigid geometries. Fused-deposition modelling (FDM) is an extrusion printing technique that passes material in a solid filament form through a heating tool. The melted filament is then deposited layer-by-layer to create the CAD defined model. Lastly, Selective laser sintering (SLS) bioprinting uses laser-powered additive manufacturing to sinter powdered material. Laser points are aimed at space points defined by the 3D model, binding the material together as a solid structure.

What benefits are there in using Bioinks?

Bioinks are the simplest way to have precise control over fabricated constructs. They offer high output, consistent and cost-effective reproducibility. Bioinks are one of the most advanced tissue engineering and regenerative tools available for 3D bioprinting. Whilst being functional and not harmful to living tissue, they are not translatable or scalable in the same way as synthetic peptide bioinks. Choosing a bioink that is fully synthetic and has tailored functional and mechanical properties that are fully reproducible to closely mimic all tissue types can avoid the significant batch-to-batch variations associated with natural bioinks.


The Bioprinting process chosen from those mentioned above will depend on the type of bioink selected, which is driven by the complexity of the final tissue structure. Selecting the most appropriate bioink requires you to keep in mind and be aware of the Bioinks ability to control the formation of defined droplets and its morphology and fidelity of the deposited building blocks. 

Also, how compatible the bioink is with live cells and living tissue. It is also essential to identify the bioinks likelihood of toxic or immunological reactions on exposure to the body or bodily fluids in use. You should also consider whether the inherent property of the 3D printing will change from solid to gel and remain intact when exposed to certain physiological conditions or is it likely to break down on exposure to microorganisms. A bioink with viscoelasticity provides better tissue formation, and shear-thinning bioinks can be used with extrusion-based printers as the viscosity of the bioink decreases under shear stress. 

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