3D printing could have cracked the problem of making human organs

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A huge leap could be made with bioprinting – the 3D printing of tissue and organs – thanks to an innovative idea which proposes to use ‘aqueous architectures’, or in other words, printing in a specially made fluid.

As Science magazine reports, human tissue and organs are very tricky to make using traditional 3D printing methods without putting support scaffolding in place – and that scaffolding can later be very difficult (or indeed impossible) to remove.

So the idea as advanced by Chinese researchers is to move away from a solid support structure, and instead use liquid. Specifically, this would be a fluid matrix into which the liquid design for an organ could be injected, and the surrounding fluid then drained away after the organ has set.

Stability is key

This kind of approach has previously been attempted, except the fluid matrix hasn’t proven stable enough, and the whole thing has simply collapsed. So instead these researchers from China have used hydrophilic (attracted to water molecules) liquid polymers which are capable of creating a stable membrane.

Using this method, the liquid structure is far more robust and is even capable of holding its shape for as long as 10 days. A further benefit is that during the process of pumping the ‘ink’ into the fluid membrane, if mistakes are made, the nozzle can actually extract and rewrite the ink as needed.

The researchers believe that this advance in the field of bioprinting will help greatly with the production of complex tissue-like constructs including arteries and tracheae.

And this could have a major impact in terms of regenerative medicine, the scientists say, as well as producing in-vitro tissue models for studies and the likes of disease modeling, or potential applications like drug screening or development.

The researchers note that a commercially available 3D printer has been used in their early experiments thus far, albeit when printing multiple cells, a ‘homemade microfluidic nozzle head’ was employed instead.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).