Scientists Develop 3D Printer Than Can Create Synthetic Tissue
April 5, 2013

Scientists Develop 3D Printer That Can Create Synthetic Tissue

WATCH VIDEO: [Synthetic Tissue Built With 3D Printer]

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Scientists reported in the journal Science that they have developed a 3-D printer that can create materials with several of the properties of living tissues.

The new type of 3-D printing material consists of thousands of connected water droplets within lipid films, which can perform some of the functions of the cells inside our bodies. It could become the building blocks of a new kind of technology for delivering drugs to places where they are needed and potentially could replace damaged human tissues.

"We aren't trying to make materials that faithfully resemble tissues but rather structures that can carry out the functions of tissues," said Professor Hagan Bayley of Oxford University's Department of Chemistry, who led the research. "We've shown that it is possible to create networks of tens of thousands connected droplets [sic]. The droplets can be printed with protein pores to form pathways through the network that mimic nerves and are able to transmit electrical signals from one side of a network to the other."

Each of the droplets are contained in a compartment about 50 microns in diameter, which is about five times larger than living cells. The team believes the droplets could be made smaller.

"Conventional 3-D printers aren't up to the job of creating these droplet networks, so we custom built one in our Oxford lab to do it," said Professor Bayley. "At the moment we've created networks of up to 35,000 droplets but the size of network we can make is really only limited by time and money. For our experiments we used two different types of droplet, but there's no reason why you couldn't use 50 or more different kinds."

The droplet networks can be designed to fold themselves into different shapes after printing, which could be set up to resemble muscle movement.

"We have created a scalable way of producing a new type of soft material. The printed structures could in principle employ much of the biological machinery that enables the sophisticated behaviour of living cells and tissues," said Gabriel Villar, who is the lead author of the paper and builder of the 3-D printer.

More research is looking into 3-D printing technology, including one group that wants to use it to help recycle. A team from Michigan Technological University´s (MTU) is working on a device that takes trash like plastic milk jugs and turns them into 3-D printing material.

“Open-source 3-D printers have created enormous price competition for rapid prototyping businesses,” Joshua Pearce, a researcher on the project, told redOrbit. “Now for a few hundred dollars you can have a 3-D printer in your living room that spits out products of higher quality than what $20,000 purchased in commercial rapid prototypers even a few years ago. Costs are still dropping as printing quality improves. I am fairly confident that we are well on our way to having a 3-D printer in every home creating a real distributed and localized digital manufacturing infrastructure.”

With 3D printing material made out of both recycled material and living tissues, it is only a matter of time before these devices begin to shape our future.