3-D printing could dominate the 21st century, but progress with living material has been slow. This gel may speed things up.
A big problem with 3-D printing organs is how to maintain a scaffolding that holds the material in shape. Many approaches can print material into a pattern, but it's been a challenge to keep it that way as it matures. 3-D printing organs requires accuracy and stability, which are difficult to combine.
The wonderful properties of gel
A team has proposed a new solution, which allows for both. The solution is a gel made of an acrylic acid polymer, with a glutinous consistency. The material allows delicate maneuvering by a 3-D printer needle, in order to create miniature webs of vessels and connections. It also maintains the indent, once the shape has been cut. This means that it's great to carve patterns into, but it also holds the shape while cells grow within the cut out.
“We could foresee a future in which, before brain surgery, the surgeon 3D prints a brain out of hydrogel and then practises on it. Then the surgeon knows exactly how that surgery is going to happen.”
The technique is a significant step, but it has limitations. The gel would need to be adapted to keep maturing organs alive, as cells require a complex array of nutrients or they quickly die. The method does offer a great framework for future adaption however.
Read more at The New Scientist