A team of British scientists may have a medical breakthrough on their hands. The Oxford University-based group have used a custom-built 3D printer to create a material that resembles living tissue and could be used for medical purposes.
Made up of lipid films encapsulating thousands of connected water droplets, the material's structure is such that it can execute some functions of living cells. The hope is that it could be the first step in new technology that could be used to pass on drugs and eventually even replace damaged tissue. The results of their findings were published in the journal Science.
"We aren't trying to make materials that faithfully resemble tissues but rather structures that can carry out the functions of tissues," said Hagan Bayley, the Oxford Chemistry professor who headed the research.
Each water droplet currently measures 0.05 mm in diameter - about five times as big as living cells. But the researchers believe they could be made even smaller, and the material could take on different shapes as needed. "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," Bayley said.
The advantage of using synthetic materials to create artificial tissue is that they avoid the problems associated with other methods, including the use of stem cells. The use of additive manufacturing in bioengineering is gaining steam: in February, researchers at Cornell successfully created artificial human ears with the help of 3D printing.
See a video of the 3D printer in action here.
Photo: Oxford University/G Villar
via [Business Insider]