To provide a better tool for therapeutics, regenerative medicine, and biosensing, Tufts University bioengineers have created inkjet-printable silks containing enzymes, antibiotics, antibodies, nanoparticles, and growth factors. The purified silk protein, or fibroin, offers intrinsic strength and protective properties that make it well-suited for a range of biomedical and optoelectronic applications.

The natural polymer is an ideal "cocoon" that stabilize compounds while lending itself to many different mechanically robust formats, according to Fiorenzo Omenetto, Ph.D., associate dean for research and Frank C. Doble Professor of Engineering at Tufts School of Engineering.

By starting with the same base material, the research team created and tested a "custom library" of the inkjet-printable, functional silk inks doped with a variety of components, including bacterial-sensing polydiacetylenes (PDAs) printed on surgical gloves; proteins that stimulate bone growth (BMP-2); sodium ampicillin printed on a bacterial culture; and gold nanoparticles printed on paper.

According to the researchers, the ability to print antibiotics in topographical patterns could address the need for "smart" bandages, where therapeutics are incorporated and delivered to match a complex injury.