3D printing device enables study of biofilm treatments

3D printing biofilm treatments
Photo: 123rf

Preventing plaque build-up on teeth is something that could one day benefit from a new technology being developed by US researchers.

When bacteria and other microbes stick to surfaces and create biofilm, they form complex communities that are often resistant to traditional disinfectants. 

Now, scientists at Montana State University are developing a tool for replicating the microbial mosaics so that innovative treatments can be studied.

They presented their work during the during the annual Montana Biofilm Meeting in Bozeman on July 12-14.

For the past two years, the researchers have designed and tested a 3D printing device that can precisely lay out a grid of individual bacteria in hydrogel—a clear, Jell-O-like substance. Tapping into advances in 3D printing, the researchers can map out the microbes within drops of liquid hydrogel resin and then use laser light to solidify the material, constructing a rudimentary biofilm.

So far, the team have only used a single species of bacteria, but by using the 3D printer to do multiple passes, each with a different species or strain of bacteria, they could start to create the more complex and layered biofilms found on teeth, for example. 

By adding fluorescent dye to the bacteria, the researchers can easily see the microbes using specialised microscopes, allowing them to study the interactions that happen among the cells.

“Even the simplest biofilm systems are complicated,” Kathryn Zimlichsaid.

“It’s like a forest where there’s a lot of diversity. We’ve needed new tools to see how that diversity develops and is maintained.

“One thing that’s becoming clearer is that there’s potential to treat these pathogenic bacteria by altering the interactive biofilm environment instead of trying to use harsh chemical products,” Zimlich added.

For example, treatments could involve introducing harmless bacteria that compete with the harmful microbes and disrupt the protective biofilm.

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