A few years ago, a French daily newspaper released an article titled “Algae: Korea’s Answer to Earth’s Food Ingredient Challenge.” The article emphasized the ecological benefits of algae, a food source that is often considered unappealing in Western cultures due to its soft and pulpy texture. Algae has the remarkable ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and emit significantly fewer carbon emissions.
This means that simply consuming algae could have a positive impact on environmental conservation. However, recent advancements have taken place in the field of cultivated meat production using algae, presenting a novel approach to preserving our planet. Additionally, algae can be utilized in the engineering of artificial organs for individuals suffering from organ failure.
Professor Hyung Joon Cha and his research team from the Department of Chemical Engineering and the School of Convergence Science and Technology at POSTECH, along with Ph.D. candidate Sangmin Lee and Dr. Geunho Choi, have achieved a significant breakthrough in this area. They have developed a bioink with improved cell viability and printing resolution using alginate derived from algae, a natural carbohydrate, and harmless visible light. The research findings have been published in the scientific journal Carbohydrate Polymers.
3D bioprinting is a revolutionary technique used to create artificial organs or tissues by utilizing bioinks containing cells. This method holds immense potential in tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and even in the emerging field of food technology, particularly in the production of cultivated meat. However, existing bioinks have limitations that hinder cell mobility and result in low cell viability and printing resolution.
To overcome these challenges, the research team designed a microgel using a photocrosslinkable alginate. They then developed a 3D-printed bioink that allows cells to move and proliferate freely by incorporating this photocrosslinkable alginate microgel. The bioink loaded with cells demonstrated a fourfold increase in cell proliferation compared to conventional bioinks.
Moreover, the microgel exhibited reduced viscosity when subjected to external forces for a specific period and quickly regained its initial shape after deformation. These characteristics significantly enhanced the resolution and lamination capabilities of the printed structures.
Professor Hyung Joon Cha, the lead researcher, explained, “By employing a biomaterial-based bioink with excellent and stable cell-loading capabilities, we have successfully engineered functional tissue structures for practical 3D printing. Further research and refinement of this technology are expected to facilitate its widespread adoption in artificial organ engineering and cultivated meat production.”