A new synthetic tissue-like material, which may one day be applicable in treating certain medical conditions, has been successfully printed using 3D printing technology.
The material consists of thousands of “water droplets” that are encased in lipid films, and researchers producing the material have shown that the pseudo-skin can mimic some key functionality that is found in human cells.
Many human cells act as transport vessels or mechanisms for delivering messages, nutrients, and other essentials throughout the body. The printed “droplet networks,” researchers claim, can become a building block to recreating that same biological transport mechanism. Since the network is composed completely of synthesized material, the hassle of having to deal with genetic engineering can also be negated to an extent.
“We aren’t trying to make materials that faithfully resemble tissues but rather structures that can carry out functions of tissues,” said Hagan Bayley, professor and lead researcher of the study at Oxford University.
Currently, researchers have been printing out droplets that are about 50 microns in diameter. Although they’re about five times the size of living cells, scientists believe that they can modify their printing equipment even further to produce even smaller droplets.
“Conventional 3D printers aren’t up to the job of creating these droplet networks, so we custom built one in our Oxford lab to do it,” said Bayley. “At the moment we’ve created networks of up to 35,000 droplets but the size of network we can make is really only limited by time and money. For our experiments we used two different types of droplet, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use 50 or more different kinds.”
(The droplet network folding itself into a ball.)
Even more amazing is that these droplets have an autonomous-like nature to them, as they are able to fold and self-manipulate into certain shapes after they’ve been printed. This flexibility in post-production of the droplets is due to the osmolarity difference that comes from water being transferred between droplets in the network.