Jan 11, 2018 | By Benedict

Researchers at Imperial College London have developed a new freezing and 3D printing technique that can be used to create biological structures for tissue regeneration and replica organs. The printed structures can mimic the properties of organs like the brain and lungs.

3D printed scaffolds are becoming more and more common in the field of tissue engineering, as scientists look to find ways of creating artificial human organs for transplantation or drug screening purposes. But scaffolds, which can be “seeded” with cells, are especially useful for use in tissue regeneration, helping damaged parts of the body to heal using fresh living cells.

A new technique developed by researchers at Imperial College London allows the creation of incredibly soft scaffolds that accurately mimic soft tissues in the human body. The researchers think the method could help regeneration of soft tissues, and could someday help regeneration of the brain and spinal cord using seeded neuronal cells.

The new technique involves the use of both 3D printing and cryogenics (freezing), and in their early testing, the researchers seeded the 3D printed scaffolds with dermal fibroblast cells. These cells generate connective tissue in the skin, and the researchers noted that their printed scaffolds resulted in successful attachment and survival of the new connective tissue.

In the new process, solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) is used to rapidly cool a hydrogel ink as it is extruded from a 3D printer. While frozen, the hydrogel cannot be used for functional purposes, but once thawed, the printed gel is as soft as human tissues yet strong enough to support itself. This represents a major breakthrough, because collapsing hydrogel structures have historically been a common problem for scientists working in this area.

The researchers believe that use of dry ice has been a major contributing factor to the project’s success: “Cryogenics is the novel aspect of this technology,” explained Dr Antonio Elia Forte, one of the researchers from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial. “It uses the phase change between liquid and solid to trigger polymerization and create super soft objects that can hold their shape. This means that the technology has a wide variety of possible uses.”

It’s a small step for the researchers, but one that could lead to important future milestones: creating replica body parts or even whole organs that could be used for scientific testing, perhaps replacing animal bodies used for practicing surgery. The research could also lead to new possibilities in stem cell growth, a process that can produce different kinds of cells.

All that will only happen if the London-based researchers can scale up their experiments, moving from tiny tissue sections to much larger structures. “At the moment we have created structures a few centimeters in size, but ideally we'd like to create a replica of a whole organ using this technique,” said Zhengchu Tan, another researcher from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial.

The research, “Cryogenic 3D Printing of Super Soft Hydrogels,” has been published in Nature: Scientific Reports. Its other authors were Cristian Parisi, Lucy Di Silvio, and Daniele Dini.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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