Creating replacement tissue for therapeutic uses typically means growing materials that very much resemble the real thing. Yet for many uses, simply recreating specific functionality of a tissue is all that’s really required.
Researchers from Oxford University have reported in journal Science a new technique to 3D print a new type of material made of large numbers of water droplets trapped within lipid films. As an example of how the material may turn out to be useful in medicine, the team was able to make protein pores within the droplets that can serve as biological pathways for functional activity.
Although the droplets in the current study are considerably larger than cells in your body, the team believes that they can bring them down to size. Additionally, the system can be made to print using a variety of droplet sizes and the structures that come out can be programmed to fold in specific ways.
From the study abstract in Science:
We printed tens of thousands of picoliter aqueous droplets that become joined by single lipid bilayers to form a cohesive material with cooperating compartments. Three-dimensional structures can be built with heterologous droplets in software-defined arrangements. The droplet networks can be functionalized with membrane proteins; for example, to allow rapid electrical communication along a specific path. The networks can also be programmed by osmolarity gradients to fold into otherwise unattainable designed structures. Printed droplet networks might be interfaced with tissues, used as tissue engineering substrates, or developed as mimics of living tissue.
Here’s a video report from Chemical & Engineering News:
Abstract in Science: A Tissue-Like Printed Material…
Oxford press statement: 3D printer can build synthetic tissues…