3D printers are more than just a cool way to make your own plastic models. The technology has numerous medical applications from creating organs to helping a little girl move her arms. Those examples all involve relatively large samples though. What can be done about objects that are less than a nanometer in size?
Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology have come up with a new form of 3D printing called "3D Photografting." The technology allows scientists to attach molecules to an object on the micrometer level. It uses lasers to make sure the molecules attach at exactly the right place.
So why create an entirely new method of 3D manipulation? The two teams involved in the research said that using traditional 3D printers to attach molecules would be extremely difficult. They created this new method so that they could start with a 3D scaffold and then attach the molecules from there.
The researchers also created a new laser to help them attach molecules to the hydrogel, a material made up of macromolecules. The new laser has a lens with a resolution of 4 µm. This allows them to be extremely precise with one of the researchers equating their work to that of an artist.
The new technology will allow scientists to grow biological tissue. It uses the laser to attract cells to a specific area on the scaffold so they can grow out to create the required tissue. The new technique is in its infancy for now, but it could be used to grow blood vessels and capillaries in the near future.
3D printing and related technologies are already proving to be the future of medicine. Automating the creation of new organs will save numerous lives, especially those who find it hard to find a matching donor.[h/t: Science Daily]