(Left) 3D printing nozzle for living tissue concept (Right) real-world printed tissue samples (via University of Oxford & Science/AAAS)
We have seen 3D printers create many things from dresses and art, to gun models and cars. Now researchers at Oxford University have created a 3D printer that is capable of printing materials with properties of human tissues. Gabriel Villar, the creator of the printer, is a PhD student supervised by Professor Hagan Bayley. His printer creates extremely small balls of liquids, which become encased in a layer of lipids and can potentially mimic living tissue.
The 3D printer works using two nozzles, each of which create miniscule droplets of liquid only 65 billionths of a milliliter in volume. These droplets are “printed” into oil where the droplets encase themselves in lipids and then combine with other neighboring droplets to create a double-layered membrane, the same structure that our cells take on. Currently, the scientist has managed to string together 35,000 of them but they say there is no limit to the amount that can be created and combined together.
The dropplet printer. "two droplet generators, each with a glass capillary nozzle, next to an oil well mounted on a motorised micromanipulator." (via Gabriel Villar)
There have been 3D printers created previously which can create stem cells; however, Villar's approach does not actually create any cells. Using his method tissues can possibly be created which would look and behave like real cells without containing any genetic materials. This provides the advantage of the synthetic tissue not growing and dividing on its own, a problem commonly associated with stem cells.
Villar also points out that the tissues can carry currents. Connecting electrodes across the ends of the molecules allows ions to flow through and carry a current. These ion channels follow a fixed path and can behave very similarly to neurons. Furthermore, using salt concentrations the researchers found that they could make the tissues expand and contract. Using these methods, they state they could potentially create spheres, which could carry drugs for medical uses. On the other hand, a tissue expanding and contracting sounds like it is right along the lines of a working muscle. The research is still in its infancy; with further developments, these “printed” tissues can have big impacts on our lives.
See more news at: