Printed Soft Optical Waveguides of PLA Copolymers for Guiding Light into Tissue

The application of optical technologies in treating pathologies and monitoring disease states requires the development of soft, minimal invasive and implantable devices to deliver light to tissues inside the body. Here, we present soft and degradable optical waveguides from poly(d,l-lactide) and derived copolymers fabricated by extrusion printing in the desired dimensions and shapes. The obtained optical waveguides propagate VIS to NIR light in air and in tissue at penetration depths of tens of centimeters. Besides, the printed waveguides have elastomeric properties at body temperature and show softness and flexibility in the range relevant for implantable devices in soft organs. Printed waveguides were able to guide light across 8 cm tissue and activate photocleavage chemical reactions in a photoresponsive hydrogel (in vitro). The simplicity and flexibility of the fiber processing method and the optical and mechanical performance of the obtained waveguides exemplify how rational study of medically approved biomaterials can lead to useful inks for printing cost-effective and flexible optical components for potential use in medical contexts.