3D printer able to create synthetic tissues

5 April 2013
By Edd Gent
Mobile version
Share |
A droplet network created by the 3D printer with an electrically conductive pathway between electrodes mimicking a nerve

A droplet network created by the 3D printer with an electrically conductive pathway between electrodes mimicking a nerve

A custom-built programmable 3D printer can create materials with several of the properties of living tissues.

Oxford University scientists have demonstrated the new type of materials, which consist of thousands of connected water droplets encapsulated within lipid films, can perform some of the functions of the cells inside our bodies.

These printed “droplet networks” could be the building blocks of a new kind of technology for delivering drugs to places where they are needed and potentially one day replacing or interfacing with damaged human tissues.

The unique 3D printer designed to create the materials was built by Gabriel Villar, a DPhil student in the Department of Chemistry and the lead author of the paper that appeared in this today's Science.

“We have created a scalable way of producing a new type of soft material. The printed structures could in principle employ much of the biological machinery that enables the sophisticated behaviour of living cells and tissues,” he says.

Each droplet is an aqueous compartment about 50 microns in diameter and although this is around five times larger than living cells the researchers believe there is no reason why they could not be made smaller. The networks remain stable for weeks.

“Conventional 3D printers aren't up to the job of creating these droplet networks, so we custom built one in our Oxford lab to do it,” says Professor Hagan Bayley of Oxford University's Department of Chemistry, who led the research.

“At the moment we've created networks of up to 35,000 droplets but the size of network we can make is really only limited by time and money. For our experiments we used two different types of droplet, but there's no reason why you couldn't use 50 or more different kinds.”

The droplet networks can be designed to fold themselves into different shapes after printing – so, for example, a flat shape that resembles the petals of a flower is “programmed” to fold itself into a hollow ball, which cannot be obtained by direct printing.

The folding, which resembles muscle movement, is powered by osmolarity differences that generate water transfer between droplets.

Because droplet networks are entirely synthetic, have no genome and do not replicate, they avoid some of the problems associated with other approaches to creating artificial tissues – such as those that use stem cells.

“'We aren't trying to make materials that faithfully resemble tissues but rather structures that can carry out the functions of tissues,” says Bayley.

“We've shown that it is possible to create networks of tens of thousands connected droplets. 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.”

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1605

"We visit Barcelona, one of the smartest cities in the world, to find out what makes it so special. What does it look like and what is the future?"

E&T jobs

  • Technical Architect

    BAE Systems
    • South Ayrshire, Scotland, Prestwick
    • Negotiable

    Technical Architect Would you like to help provide the Technical Authority and Leadership within the RA IM&T Department? We currently have a vacancy for a Technical Architect at our site in Prestwick. As a Technical Architect, you will be managing and

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Web and Database Developer

    Hercules Site Services Ltd
    • Swindon, Wiltshire
    • £36,000 - £40,000 p/a

    Web and Database Developer to join Engineering department to develop the company website and support the Existing infrastructure.

    • Recruiter: Hercules Site Services Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Software Compliance Consultant

    BAE Systems
    • England, Lancashire, Preston
    • Negotiable

    Software Compliance Consultant Would you like to be a part of an exciting and growing team, responsible for the long-term strategic management of software for BAE Systems? We currently have a vacancy for a Software Compliance Consultant at our site in Pr

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Consultant Engineer - Information Assurance

    BAE Systems
    • Barrow-In-Furness, England, Cumbria
    • Negotiable

    Consultant Engineer - Information Assurance Would you like to have a strategic influence on the development of Information Assurance (IA) policies for a national nuclear deterrence programme? We currently have a vacancy for a Consultant Engineer - Informa

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Junior Business Analyst - IKM

    BAE Systems
    • Hampshire, England, Portsmouth
    • Negotiable

    Junior Business Analyst - IKM Would you like to forge a career in the defence industry? We currently have a vacancy for a Junior Business Analyst - IKM at our site at Portsmouth Naval Base. As a Junior Business Analyst - IKM, you will be supporting the I

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Control Engineer

    Bank of England
    • Debden
    • Competitive

    We’re looking for a qualified engineer with experience of computer programming for engineering systems and instrumentation.

    • Recruiter: Bank of England

    Apply for this job

  • Principal Engineer - Software Verification

    BAE Systems
    • England, Cumbria, Barrow-In-Furness
    • Negotiable

    Principal Engineer - Software Verification Would you like an opportunity to work with military based software tackling some of the greatest software complexities and associated risk levels? We currently have a vacancy for a Principal Engineer - Software V

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Systems Engineer

    National Air Traffic Services
    • England, Hampshire, Fareham
    • Negotiable

    NATS is a leading air navigation services specialist, handling 2.2 million flights in 2013/14, covering the UK and eastern North Atlantic. NATS provides air traffic control from centres at Swanwick, Hampshire and Prestwick, Ayrshire. NATS also provides a

    • Recruiter: National Air Traffic Services

    Apply for this job

  • Field Application Engineer

    Intel
    • Madrid

    Responsible for giving product presentations to the customer describing how Intel products provide the optimum solution to their application.

    • Recruiter: Intel

    Apply for this job

  • Rail Engineer

    Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd
    • Burton, Dorking, Glasgow
    • £ Competitive + Benefits

    Some of the most exciting infrastructure projects in the UK over the coming years are in rail.

    • Recruiter: Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T