3D Printing: Getting Close to The Study of Cancer

New Research: Special 3D Printer for Bio-Medicine

There’s a specially adapted 3D printer that was made to build therapeutic biomaterials from different materials. Professor and bio-engineer Ali Khademhosseini of UCLA, who led the study and developed the Khademhosseini’s 3D printer says that scientists are hoping that it can help medical research by printing complex test materials that closely approximate real human tissue. He said that since human tissues are highly complex structures, its artificial versions should also mimic their complexities. This can be a step toward on-demand printing of complex artificial tissues for use in transplants and other surgeries.

The technique uses a light-based process called stereolithography, and it takes advantage of a customized 3D printer designed by Khademhosseini that has two key components. The first is a custom-built microfluidic chip – a small, flat platform similar in size to a computer chip, with multiple inlets that each “prints” a different material. The other component is a digital micromirror, an array of more than a million tiny mirrors that each moves independently.

Also called “automated stereolithographic bioprinting,” the components all work together. The micromirrors direct light onto the printing surface. Illuminated areas trace the outline of the 3D object. The light also triggers molecular bonds to form in a variety of hydrogel bioinks, materials that are regularly used in tissue engineering. These molecular bonds firm and harden to extent that the bioinks turn into solid material. As the 3D object is printed, the mirror array changes the light pattern to indicate the shape of each new layer.

This research used many types of hydrogels that, after passing through the printer, form scaffolds for tissue to grow into. They also experimented with simple shapes, like pyramids, then complex 3D structures that mimicked parts of muscle tissue and muscle-skeleton connective tissues. They also printed shapes mimicking tumors with networks of blood vessels, which could be used as biological models to study cancers. They tested the printed structures by implanting them in rats. The structures were not rejected.

The study was funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Institutes of Health.

All For The Advancement of Science in Seattle

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