Jan 26, 2016 | By Alec

3D bioprinting technology is advancing with leaps and bounds, and experts are speculating that 3D printed human tissue in hospitals is only a few years away. In fact, 3D bioprinters are already capable of creating complex shapes using mixtures of human cells and polymers – though 3D printing single cells is another matter entirely. Fortunately, a team of scientists from Penn State University have just revealed that they have been remarkably successful with what they call acoustic tweezers. Essentially consisting of two sound generators, this tweezer can actually capture a single human cell and deposit it elsewhere without damaging it. Could this be the 3D bioprinting revolution the world is waiting for?

This interesting innovation has just been announced on the Penn State website, and has been developed by a team led by professor of Bioengineering Science and Mechanics Tony Jun Huang. Also involved where postdocs Feng Guo, Peng Li and James Lata, graduate students Zhangming Mao and Yuchao Chen, former postdoctoral Fellow Zhiwei Xie and professor of biomedical engineering Jian Yang. Subra Suresh, the president of Carnegie Mellon University, was also involved in the team. Their work has just appeared in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As they explain, these acoustic tweezers are essentially tools for moving cells in 3D and building very precise structures with them. While we have to do that by forcing everything through an extruder, this process actually works without touching, deforming or labelling the cells. “In this application we use surface acoustic waves to create nodes where cells or microparticles are trapped,” professor Tony Jun Huang explained. “We can then move the cell or particle in three dimensions to create structures in two or three dimensions.”

The tweezers themselves consist of nothing but sound waves generated by two sets of surface-acoustic-wave generators. When the sound waves collide, they create a pressure field capable of capturing and transporting a particle or a cell. By moving the generators simultaneously, the cell can also be precisely transported. “The results presented in this paper provide a unique pathway to manipulate biological cells, accurately and in three dimensions, without the need for any invasive contact, tagging, or biochemical labeling,” Subra Suresh explained. “This approach could lead to new possibilities for research and applications in such areas as regenerative medicine, neuroscience, tissue engineering, biomanufacturing, and cancer metastasis.”

Perhaps most interesting is not just their ability to capture cells without damaging them, but also very precisely positioning them elsewhere. As the team explains, they are essentially mimicking 3D bioprinting on a very low level – picking up cells to create assembly of cells in 3D, in a precise, noninvasive manner. This is a crucial innovation, as cell-to-cell communication and cell-environment interaction is very difficult to capture through 3D bioprinting. While the tweezers are not technically a 3D printer, they could lead to the 3D printing innovation the sector is waiting for.

“Adding a third dimension for precisely manipulating single cells for bioprinting further advances acoustic tweezers technology,” arguied Ming Dao, the director of the Nanomechanics Lab at MIT. “The accompanying modeling provides solutions for cell manipulation, enabling validation of the method as well as possible system optimization.”

The current iteration of the 3D acoustic tweezers is already quite precise, featuring a horizontal placement accuracy of 1 micrometer per cell, and 2 micrometers vertically. A 10 micrometer particle was moved around at about 2.5 micrometers per second with the device, which was then placed in position in a matter of seconds. The wavelength and input power can also be tuned during experiments, giving the researchers quite a bit of placement freedom. “3-D acoustic tweezers can pattern cells with control over the number of cells, cell spacing and the confined geometry, which may offer a unique way to print neuron cells to create artificial neural networks for neuron science applications or regenerative neuron medicine,” said Huang.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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