‘3DEAL’ is a simple and inexpensive fabrication technique that can generate complex molecular patterns within soft matter, like hydrogels, with microscale resolution up to centimeters deep.
This capacity allows for the possibility of engineering 3D hydrogel environments with spatial control of the chemical composition, opening the opportunity to recreate biological scenarios, like 3D molecular gradients or patterns. This could be used to design new drug screening platforms or build complex tissue-engineered constructs.
Professor Avaro Mata, the lead researcher from Queen Mary’s School Of Engineering and Materials Science, said, "The human body is largely made up of anisotropic, hierarchical, and mostly three-dimensional structures. New ways to fabricate environments that can recreate physical and chemical features of such structures would have important implications in the way more efficient drugs are developed or more functional tissue and organ constructs can be engineered."
The key to the design feature of 3DEAL is that it uses an electrical field and a porous make, which can be used to move and specifically localize multiple types of molecules within hydrogels with microscale resolution within large volumes.
Gastón Primo, a Ph.D. student at Queen Mary and co-author of the paper, said “A major advantage of the technique is its robustness and cost-effectiveness. It is simple and can be used with different types of readily available hydrogels and be patterned with different types of molecules."
The researchers aim to create variations of the technique to enable more complex patterning as well as focus on specific applications in tissue engineering and relevant in virto models for biological studies.
According to Dietmar Hutmacher, an expert in Regenerative Medicine Science and Engineering from the Queensland University of Technology, "Fabrication of biomimetic and anisotropic hydrogels exhibiting direction-dependent structure and properties has attracted great interest in the scientific community. The Mata lab has widened the toolbox with this innovative 3DEAL technology."
This research was published in Advanced Functional Materials.