Tahlia Altgold, a junior materials science and biomedical engineering major at Carnegie Mellon University, spent her summer using silk to engineer and 3D-print tissue for regenerative medicine. As in body parts. For humans. The technique was invented at Carnegie Mellon’s Regenerative Biomaterials and Therapeutics Group.
As it turns out, silk has long been used as a biomedical material for sutures. Altgold and her professors at CMU are using silk as a support structure for growing cells. Her process involves dicing up silkworm cocoons, boiling them in sodium bicarbonate, and separating the proteins.
Next, she coerces the proteins to hold the shape she needs to print, for example, an eardrum. Because silk is biocompatible, researchers hope the 3D printing technique will be a breakthrough for regenerative medicine. It’s a great time to be alive.