Thanks to new advances in science, living tissue-like material can now be processed–and may one day be able to be used to save lives.
According to new findings released Thursday in the journal “Science,” British scientists have created a custom 3D printer that can make a material that is a close facsimile to human tissue.
The tissue-like substance consists of thousands of connected water droplets encapsuled within lipid films that can act out some of the functions of human cells. With the construction of this tissued substance, scientists are speculating that, with some fine tuning, the material could one day be used to deliver drugs to the body or even replace the damaged tissue in living human organs.
The study was led by Hagan Bayley of Oxford University.
“The great thing about these droplets is that they use pretty much exclusively biological materials,” study co-author and University of Oxford researcher Gabriel Villar told the L.A. Times.
The printer works by using a micropipette to squeeze out droplets in exact orders. Researchers were able to generate networks of up to 35,000 droplets. But in doing so, Villar pointed out, scientists were able to discover more about the material–and what they found surprised them.
“What we didn’t really expect was that once we could print these droplets out and eject them en masse and assemble them into different geometries, the collection of droplets behaved not just as a loose aggregate of objects but really as a cohesive material, and that kind of changed our thinking throughout the work,” Villar said.
The scientists have also been able to make more than one kind of droplet using their multinozzle printer, and have been able to incorporate an arc of droplets conducive to electricity into a network of insulating droplets.
The result? Scientists have been able to mimic the behavior of a human nerve fiber, thanks to this latest creation. While the lipid bilayers surrounding droplets are five times bigger than living cells, they are still biocompatible, which opens the doorways for the possibility of turning them into nerve pathways for the body if protein channels can be placed into the layers.
Villar told Chemical and Engineering News that these new printed scaffolds could create new possibilities in the field of tissue engineering. One of them is to load cells into the droplets while in the printing phase in order to create living tissue.
Christopher S. Chen, a bioengineer at the University of Pennsylvania, added that the study “extends 3-D printing to a new class of materials,” although he remains uncertain of the networks’ uses in tissue engineering due to the fact that Bayley’s team has yet to show a full demonstration.