Feb 16, 2018 | By Benedict

Researchers from the UK’s Queen Mary University of London have used a 3D printing technique to create constructs that resemble biological structures. The structures are embedded in an ink that resembles natural environments.

Cells spreading on a scaffold

(Image: Clara Hedegaard)

Using advanced 3D bioprinting techniques and cell culture processes, scientists are now in a position to fabricate biological structures that closely mimic human tissue. Today, a further advancement from researchers at Queen Mary University of London means those structures can now be studied as though they had been transplanted into a human body.

The advancement could potentially aid cancer research.

The key element in this new biofabrication research is the use of a special ink or bioink that resembles the native environment of certain biological structures—areas of the body, in other words. Using this ink, the researchers can put droplet-on-demand 3D printed cell structures into an environment that—for all intents and purposes—is just like the native environment of natural tissues.

This improves upon previous research whose printing inks have a limited capacity to actively stimulate cells.

It’s a clever trick that lets the researchers study their 3D printed biological structures, keeping a close eye on how the cells behave in the artificial, body-like environment.

Biofabricated gel structures

(Image: Clara Hedegaard)

The end goal? Studying biological scenarios like the development of cancer cells and interaction of immune cells with other cells, with the hope of developing new drugs to combat cancer and other diseases.

It’s complex scientific research, but the Queen Mary researchers say the process that produces the biological structures—a combination of molecular self-assembly (nanoscale) and 3D printing (micro/macro-scale)—is actually a bit like stacking Lego blocks.

Furthermore, the structures can be made with molecular precision, allowing the researchers to make constructs that mimic different body parts or tissues.

“The technique opens the possibility to design and create biological scenarios like complex and specific cell environments,” said Professor Alvaro Mata of Queen Mary's School of Engineering and Materials Science, “which can be used in different fields such as tissue engineering by creating constructs that resemble tissues or in vitro models that can be used to test drugs in a more efficient manner.”

“This method enables the possibility to build 3D structures by printing multiple types of biomolecules capable of assembling into well defined structures at multiple scales,” added lead author Clara Hedegaard. “Because of this, the self-assembling ink provides an opportunity to control the chemical and physical properties during and after printing, which can be tuned to stimulate cell behaviour.”

The study, "Hydrodynamically Guided Hierarchical Self-Assembly of Peptide-Protein Bioinks," has been published in Advanced Functional Materials.

Revisit our list of the top 20 3D bioprinters for more information on bioprinting.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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