3D printing has performed some miraculous feats in the field of medicine. Researchers are already playing around with the idea of growing organs with 3D printers, and now one university has proven that you can make human-like tissue with the technology.
Oxford University revealed this week that its researchers have built a custom 3D printer that prints out a new material that’s composed of thousands of connected water droplets inside lipid films. This new material can perform some of the functions of the cells within our bodies, and may one day be used to either deliver medicine to targeted areas, or repair damaged tissue.
“We aren’t trying to make materials that faithfully resemble tissues but rather structures that can carry out the functions of tissues,” said Professor Hagan Bayley of Oxford University’s Department of Chemistry, who led the research. “We’ve shown that it is possible to create networks of tens of thousands connected droplets. 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.”
The custom 3D printer, built by Gabriel Villar, is unlike anything we’ve ever see in the field. The printer is able to create networks of up to 35,000 droplets with each droplet only being 50 microns in diameter. These droplets, when combined into networks, can fold into unique shapes after being printed.
The folding of these droplets is similar to another form of 3D printing called 4D printing. The highly experimental technology allows objects, after being printed on a 3D printer, to self assemble into new shapes.