Researchers in the U.K. are 3-D printing super-soft biological structures that could be used for tissue regeneration and replica organs.
“So far we showed that we are able to grow cells on the super-soft 3-D printed structures,” Zhengchu Tan of the Imperial College London, told HCB News. “In order to transplant these scaffolds into the body we require the cells to grow in a very specific way and in a very specific structure, especially for organs as complex as the brain.”
The material used to print the structures — composite hydrogel — mimics the mechanical behavior of human body tissue. The hydrogel ink is rapidly cooled with dry ice as it is extruded from the 3-D printer.
When the hydrogel thaws, it becomes as soft as body tissues. Unlike previous techniques, this resulting structure can hold its shape and thus does not collapse under its own weight.
“We did some tests on the 3-D printed material and compared it to real brain,” said Tan. “The results showed that the 3-D printed material matched real brain results published by other authors.”
The structures can be used in medical procedures to create scaffolds that can act as a template for tissue regeneration. This approach would allow the body to heal without the complications associated with tissue-replacing transplant procedures such as rejection.
They can also be used to create artificial organs that physicians can use to study brain injuries following car crashes to improve safety. The medical community is currently unable to do that because performing such procedures on humans would be unethical.
“The artificial organs can be used by surgeons to practice delicate operations before operating on the patient, which may improve the success rate of the operation,” said Tan.
He also noted that this is a step closer to achieving a 3-D-printed brain for transplant. However, there are many more steps to go before that becomes a reality.