British scientists at Oxford University have created a custom 3D printer that makes living tissue-like material which could be suited for medical purposes.
The material consists of thousands of connected water droplets, which are encapsulated within a lipid film, that can carry out some of the functions of human cells. The scientists believe that the “droplet networks” could be used to pass on drugs and eventually could even replace damaged tissue.
“The droplets 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 the other.”, said Hagan Bayley, a professor at Oxford’s Chemistry Department.
The droplet networks are synthetic, they don’t have a genome and don’t replicate, so they don’t cause the issues that are common in other forms of artificial tissues, such as stem cells. Each droplet is about 50 microns in diameter (0.05 mm) which is around 5 times the size of living cells, but the researches expect future reductions in their size.
The 3D printer used to make the material was custom built in Oxford and is joins other projects which are using 3D printing technology in the medical field. The University of Ohio recently utilized a bio-ink for printing organs and Cornell Univ. created a human ear using 3D printing techniques.