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A 3D printer that prints living human cells into a suspended gel has been developed. This has huge implications for tissue engineering.

Stashed in: Science!, Awesome, Medicine, 3D Printers, Biotechnology, @emilykatemoon, 3D Printing, yeah, science!

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This Incredible Machine Draws 3D Objects Out of Living Human Cells:

Thanks to some wild, futuristic gels, 3D printing with soft materials is upon us. Soon your brain surgeon will be printing a soft three-dimensional copy of your brain on which to practice.

As it wends the material into delicate hair-thin veins, this new 3D printer is doing two amazing things. First, unbound by the constraints of gravity, it is pumping a suspended 'painting' into a buoyant gel the consistency of hand-sanitizer. And second, the material you see being injected here is living, human cells. 

Today, a team of engineers and biomedical researchers led by Tapomoy Bhattacharjee and Thomas Angelini at the University of Florida has unveiled a radical new 3D printing technology. It's a machine that takes advantage of the curious properties of granular gels—seemingly sci-fi materials that act like they're stuck halfway between liquid and solid states. According to the paper they just published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers have already shown that the machine can paint in soft materials such as silicone and hydrogels—which otherwise flop flat and deform during the 3D printing process—with incredibly fine and elegant detail.

yay for 3D printing!!!  this is super cool!

And unlike anything I've seen before. 

The possibilities once we can print tissues are enormous. 

This can help a lot of people who need skin grafts, organ improvements, and even vascular grafts. 

Reddit comment by a biomedical engineer:

Full text link to the open access paper / source is available here

I do research in this field and am always very skeptical of headlines claiming huge implications of anything, so I am happy to say this is a rather unique and interesting approach to 3D printing. The authors engineered the "granular gel" from 7 µm carbopol (acrylic acid) hydrogel beads that allow for behavior like a liquid under shear to allow the dispensing tip to move through the gel but rapidly fill the void left by the moving dispenser tip to stabilize whatever material was extruded. This material requires organic solvents that could present problems for translation to the clinic (meaning usable for good manufacturing processes) but as a demonstration of a new technique is perfectly fine to have been used. Other hydrogel materials can certainly be substituted for the beads.

The printer was shown to be capable of extruding lines of material of thickness of only 100 µm, but also the ability to arrange those extruded filaments into tube structures with 100 µm inner diameters; for comparison, blood capillaries can be as small as 3-4 µm with many typically around 30 µm.They demonstrated awesome branched tube structures created by this method that are difficult to otherwise engineer! Printed structures were able to be crosslinked using UV or chemical means once extruded, after which the gel material can be removed.

Additionally important for tissue engineering applications, the gel enables diffusion and delivery of nutrients as well as potential for cell rearrangement via migration. The ability of cells to migrate through the material could be a double-edged-sword, however, as one of the problems with many tissue engineered constructs is that following implantation a large fraction of cells migrate out of the scaffold, rendering all the careful engineering of cell placement and cost of growing cells in vitro futile.

This is an exciting development for tissue engineering for sure! It's not a giant leap forward but has the potential to move this research closer to the clinic, particularly for organs with cavities such as the smaller arteries for small diameter vascular grafts. The clinical need is certainly there so I expect the funding money to follow.


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