It’s a 3D revolution: 3D-printers create synthetic human tissue in Oxford while work begins on a 3D-printed building in The Netherlands.

The Department of Chemistry at Oxford University has discovered a way to print 3D material which is able to imitate many of the properties of living tissues.

The team worked with a custom-built 3D-printer which uses tiny glass nozzles to squeeze out tiny droplets of water into an oily solution, creating a network of thousands of cell-like droplets, each coated in a membrane or lipid bilayer – the same layer which surrounds real living cells. These ‘droplet-networks’ can then be made to act in the same way as biological tissue. The team demonstrated the versatility of this “new class of materials” by printing a network which was able to transmit signals within a simplified nervous system.

The team also showed how the droplets can be programmed to shape and reshape themselves using osmosis in order to resemble muscle movement. The droplet networks, unlike natural cells, do not replicate and they have no genome. This means many of the problems associated with other artificial ‘tissue’ particularly that which uses stem cells, can be avoided.

Head of the project, Professor Hagan Bayley, said that the team was not “trying to make materials that faithfully resemble tissues but rather structures that can carry out the functions of tissues”. Certainly, these new materials could be adopted to carry out drug delivery to specific locations within the body or to replace damaged human tissue, perhaps even to help wipe out some forms of cancer. Approximately 50 microns in diameter, the droplets are aqueous compartments currently 5 times larger than living cells, although scientists believe they can easily be shrunk to true proportions. Gabriel Villar, a DPhil student on the project and the designer of the unique printer central to the discovery, said: “We have created a scalable way of producing a new type of soft material. The printed structures could in principle employ much of the biological machinery that enables the sophisticated behaviour of living cells and tissues.”

The craze for 3D printing is certainly not restricted to biomedical engineering, with applications spanning from medicine to manufacturing, the new technology is becoming more sophisticated by the day. The additive method (rather than traditionally subtractive one) of creating objects is close to becoming the engineering phenomenon of 2013.

3D-printers have been used in an industrial setting for 30 years, often producing metal components in the automotive field, and often by architects who require rapid prototyping. In fact, architects are now taking 3D-printing one step further. Oxford’s scientific announcement comes at the same time as an equally innovative structural one by Dutch Firm, DUS Public Architecture, who are hoping to begin work on a 3D-printed canal house. The architects will use a large-scale Kamermaker printer to print and assemble the Amsterdam building onsite. The aim is not to build a dwelling at this time, but a public research centre for 3D-printed architecture those interested can visit to watch and learn about the process. Clearly, the firm wishes to express the sheer diversity of the uses of 3D-printing for they plan on using materials spanning from potato starch to recycled plastic bottles in the construction of each room. In fact, they are hoping to have the first room finished within six months.

Source include: Oxford University, ABC Science, Science Daily, Singularity Hub, CNet Australia

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