Scientists at the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) have developed a simple technique to transform sheets of cells grown in a lab into 3-dimensional shapes. Called “micro-masonry”, the new method uses a gel-like material to organize cells into cubes, which can then be fashioned into structures resembling organs. As the artificial organs are built, small channels can be left in place to provide nutrient access.
More from the press release:
The HST researchers built their “biological Legos” by encapsulating cells within a polymer called polyethylene glycol (PEG), which has many medical uses. Their version of the polymer is a liquid that becomes a gel when illuminated, so when the PEG-coated cells are exposed to light, the polymer hardens and encases the cells in cubes with side lengths ranging from 100 to 500 millionths of a meter.
Once the cells are in cube form, they can be arranged in specific shapes using templates made of PDMS, a silicon-based polymer used in many medical devices. Both template and cell cubes are coated again with the PEG polymer, which acts as a glue that holds the cubes together as they pack themselves tightly onto the scaffold surface.
After the cubes are arranged properly, they are illuminated again, and the liquid holding the cubes together solidifies. When the template is removed, the cubes hold their new structure.
Press release: Building organs block by block…
Abstract in Advanced Materials: Micro-Masonry: Construction of 3D Structures by Microscale Self-Assembly