Feb.13, 2014

Researchers in Houston have developed a way to print living cells in virtually any shape onto any surface. Unlike recent, similar work using 2D or 3D printing, almost all cells survive the process, say scientists in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We feel the current technologies are inadequate," Qin said. "Inkjet-based cell printing leaves many of the cells damaged or dead. We wanted to see if we could invent a tool that helps researchers obtain arrays of cells that are alive and still have full activity."

Many laboratory scientists have attempted to print cells in two and three dimensions using electricity-gated inkjet technology, but sometimes only half of the printed cells survive the printing process.

"We are seeing close to 100 percent of cells in BloC-Printing survive the printing process," Qin, said.

Qin's approach, dubbed Block-Cell-Printing ("BloC-Printing"), guides living cells into hook-like traps in the silicone mold. The mold is pitted with tiny holes. When cells flow down a column in the mold, past trapped cells to the next available slot, eventually creating a line of cells. When he lifted the mold away, the living cells remained by adhering to the growth medium or other substrate, in prescribed formation. In basic principle, the system is similar as ancient Chinese woodblock printing or the big blocks used to print newspapers.

The technique is quite impressive considering 100 percent of cells in BloC-Printing survive the printing process, instead of 50 to 80 percent.

So far, Qin's group has printed out cancer cells, neurons, fibroblasts, and immune cells. By arranging metastatic cancer cells in a grid and examining their growth in comparison with a non-metastatic control, the researchers found they could easily characterize the metastatic potential of cancer cells.

Currently BloC-Printing cannot yet print multi-layer structures as inkjetting can. But one of the advantages of his method is that his "print-outs" will survive on any glass or plastic surface. In addition, the cost of BloC-Printing is low.

Qin said the materials of a single BloC mold cost about $1 (US). After the mold has been fabricated and delivered, a researcher only needs a syringe, a carefully prepared suspension of living cells, a Petri dish, and a steady hand, Qin said. Inkjet cell printers can cost between $10,000 and $200,000.

The researchers also printed a grid of brain cells and gave the cells time to form synaptic and autaptic junctions.

"Such work could be helpful in understanding Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases." said Qin.

"BloC-Printing can be combined with molecular printing for many types of drug screening, RNA interference, and molecule-cell interaction studies," he said. "We believe the technology has big potential."



Posted in Printing Technology



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