Researchers at the University of Oxford have developed a novel technique for 3D printing cells to form living tissues that retain their structure. The 3D printed tissues could potentially be used in regenerative medicine to speed healing of wounds and repair diseased tissues.
The researchers are not the first to print living tissues, although past attempts have had limited success as it is difficult to maintain the structure of the printed tissue. Cells can be positioned correctly, although they tend to move within the structure. Oftentimes, the structures are not stable and collapse.
The new technique has allowed the researchers to produce tissues that retain their shape. Cells are printed in self-contained protective nanoliter droplets. The droplets have a lipid coating and can be built up, drop by drop and layer by layer to form living structures.
The researchers claim their tissue can mimic the functions basic physiology of the tissue from where the cells came.
Dr. Alexander Graham, 3D Bioprinting Scientist at Oxford Synthetic Biology and lead author of the study, said, “To date, there are limited examples of printed tissues, which have the complex cellular architecture of native tissues.” He explained that his team “focused on designing a high-resolution cell printing platform, from relatively inexpensive components, that could be used to reproducibly produce artificial tissues with appropriate complexity from a range of cells including stem cells.”
The new technique is extremely efficient with very little waste and is capable of 3D printing biological materials with a high resolution. Being able to 3D print stem cells and have them differentiate in the printed structure “really shows the potential of this new methodology to impact regenerative medicine globally,” said Graham.
In addition to printing biological materials that can be to replace diseased and damaged tissues in the body, there is potential to develop tissues for use in drug testing and medical research, allowing scientists to conduct clinical tests on 3D printed tissues rather than use animal models.
The researchers plan to scale up the technology to allow them to produce tissues on an industrial scale. They will also be working on new printing techniques that will allow them to print a much wider range of living and hybrid materials
The research paper – High-Resolution Patterned Cellular Constructs by Droplet-Based 3D Printing – was recently published in Nature Communications.