Oxford University unveils 3D tissue printing technology

Droplet network sphere
5 Apr, 2013

Boffins claim printed material could be used for grafts or drug delivery

University of Oxford researchers have developed a programmable 3D printer that can build synthetic tissues.

The material produced by the printer is made up of thousands of connected water droplets, each encased within a lipid film, which the researchers claim can perform some of the functions of the cells inside our bodies.

The technology could lead to the development of targeted drug delivery and provide a means to replace damaged human tissues, the research team added.

Professor Hagan Bayley of the university’s department of chemistry, who led the research, said: “We aren’t trying to make materials that faithfully resemble tissues, but rather structures that can carry out the functions of tissues.

“We’ve shown that it is possible to create networks of tens of thousands of connected droplets [which] can be printed with protein pores to form pathways through the network that mimic nerves and are able to transmit electrical signals from one side of a network to another.”

An additional advantage of the synthetic tissue, the research team said, is as it has no genome and does not replicate, it avoids some of the problems associated with other approaches, such as those using stem cells.

Gabriel Villar, a DPhil student in Bayley’s group, developed a custom 3D printer for the task.

“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,” he concluded.