Aug 29, 2017 | By David

A remarkable new 3D printing discovery by researchers at Northwestern University has huge potential benefits for the treatment of cancer patients. After a fortuitous accident in a bio-printing lab which led to the creation of a tissue-paper like bio-active material, made of organic tissue, the material has now been produced intentionally in a variety of different forms. The material is highly adaptable and it is capable of stimulating cell growth as well as natural hormone production, offering people suffering from many different types of cancer an improved chance of recovery.

The discovery was initially made by Ramille Shah, an assistant professor of surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine and an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at McCormick School of Engineering. She also is a member of the Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology. She worked together with Adam Jakus, a Hartwell postdoctoral fellow, reproductive scientist Teresa Woodruff and postdoctoral fellow Monica Laronda, and their research was published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

In Shah’s lab, Jakus was attempting to synthesize an ink for 3D bio-printing ovarian tissue  similar to the other 3-D printable materials previously developed to repair and regenerate bone, muscle and nerve tissue. He spilled some of the ink and it dried quickly before he could clean it up, forming a sheet-like structure. “When I tried to pick it up, it felt strong,” Jakus said. “I knew right then I could make large amounts of bioactive materials from other organs. The light bulb went on in my head. I could do this with other organs.”

The substance was composed of the natural structural proteins that are left behind after cells are removed from organic tissue, known as the extracellular matrix. After being dried and ground up into a powder, this can be processed into a tissue-paper like material which is easy to handle and flexible enough to be folded, origami-style, into a range of different shapes. It behaves much like regular office paper when dry, but even when wet it will maintain its mechanical properties.

Each type of tissue paper has residual bio-chemicals and protein architecture from its original organic tissue- the heart, lung, liver etc. These can be used to stimulate cells to behave in a certain way. In Woodruff’s lab, for example, tissue paper made from a bovine ovary was used to grow ovarian follicles when they were cultured in vitro. The follicles (eggs and hormone-producing cells) grown on the tissue paper then produced the hormones necessary for proper function and maturation.

“This could provide another option to restore normal hormone function to young cancer patients who often lose their hormone function as a result of chemotherapy and radiation,” said Woodruff. The 'origami organ' material would be easy to implant somewhere on a patient’s body, like under the arm, to restore hormone function for cancer patients or even menopausal women.

As well as stimulating hormone production, the tissue papers are also useful for wound healing. According to Shah, they could provide support and the cell signaling needed to help regenerate tissue to prevent scarring and accelerate healing. Shah and Jakus have co-founded a startup company, Dimension Inx, to develop, produce and sell 3D printable materials, like their tissue paper, primarily for medical applications.

Jakus was surprised and inspired by the ease with which something so useful and potentially life-saving could be discovered, and the wide availability of the substances used in its development means that it could prove to be a huge success. “It is really amazing that meat and animal by-products like a kidney, liver, heart and uterus can be transformed into paper-like biomaterials that can potentially regenerate and restore function to tissues and organs,” he said. “I’ll never look at a steak or pork tenderloin the same way again.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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