Researchers at NASA and Stanford University are trying to 3D print cell clusters that can produce non-living structural biomaterials like bone minerals, tooth enamel and wood. The team says they are on track to prove their concept by October of this year.
The team is lead by Lynn Rothchild, an evolutionary biologist who works for NASA and teaches astrobiology at Stanford. Diana Gentry is a doctoral candidate trained in biology mechanical engineering; Rothchild and Gentry have been working long hours, along with Stanford student Ashley Micks, on a proof of concept for their new 3D printing process. Last year, the team was awarded $100,000 through NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program which aims to turn science fiction into fact.
Lynn Rothchild (left) and Diana Gentry
And science fiction does seem closer to fact in Rothchild's vision of the future – where the team's technique could allow things like spacesuits, habitats, – and even the human body to be repaired with 3D printed arrays of cells. In their image of the future, the 3D printer will become the go-to place for replacement parts of all sorts.
Right now, handy, biologically-derived materials like wood, bone, and silk are not possible in space-related applications because of production, manufacturing, or processing limitations. The team lead by Rothchild imagines their 3D printing technique leading to a future where everything – from tools and composite building materials to food and human tissues – may be available on Mars, and on Earth as well.
Here's how their technology works. Instead of using 3D printing for manufacturing synthetic biomaterials directly, it's used indirectly to print cell clusters in a gel solution containing chemical signaling and support. This special gel solution is squeezed out of a piezoelectric print head producing cell arrays that can make and then excrete the desired biomaterials.
The NASA-funded researches are currently tweaking the hardware used in their technique while working on a giant database of the cells existing in nature. This data can be used in future cellular engineering processes.
"Cells produce an enormous array of products on the Earth, everything from wool to silk to rubber to cellulose, you name it, not to mention meat and plant products and the things that we eat..." Rothschild said to Techcrunch. "Many of these things are excreted (from cells). So you're not going to take a cow or a sheep or a probably not a silk worm or a tree to Mars. But you might want to have a very fine veneer of either silk or wood. So instead of taking the whole organism and trying to make something, why couldn't you do this all in a very precise way – which actually may be a better way to do it on Earth as well – so that you're printing an array of cells that then can secrete or produce these products?"
Experiments in 3D cellular printing are going on around the world. The 3D-printed meat patty produced by researchers in The Netherlands and Cornell University's 3D printed synthetic ear are especially popular examples. Meanwhile, a range of medical applications for 3D bioprinting are being developed by San Francisco-based company Organovo – including 3D printed liver tissue which they delivered to laboratories outside the company two weeks ago.
Experts consider 3D bioprinting an ideal resource in medical applications where individual biological differences in patients can be used to create better, customized treatment solutions. But as the work of Rothchild and the NASA-funded team shows, 3D printing synthetic biomaterials may have a massive range of applications, in and outside of the field of medicine.
Posted in 3D Printing Technology
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Dan wrote at 2/11/2014 11:37:49 PM:
If to unite to this equipment to the equipment for chemical synthesis of DNA and the equipment for cloning of microorganisms with recombinant plasmids, and completely to automate it, it is possible to receive installation by means of which it is possible to make the small-type biochemical factories, capable to make any difficult organic substances. Different types of bacteria which will be able to make different types of substances including by the principle of the conveyor when made by one series of microorganisms of substance serve as initial products of chemical reactions for other series of microorganisms can be a part of array with microorganisms, (all reactions are carried out by means of biocatalysts - enzymes, and enzymes are programmed in DNA of plasmids).