This new 3D printer creates structures with gel, could help build living organs

3D printing is proving to be a potential game changer for a wide variety of fields. One group in particular that could benefit is the medical community, thanks to a recent development by scientists that could make it easier to print organs from living tissue. How? By printing structures inside of special gel that provides support during the build process.

New Scientist reports that researchers from the University of Florida in Gainesville came to the breakthrough method while searching for a way to enable the printing of items that cannot support their own weight. The technique prints objects inside a acrylic acid polymer gel, a material with roughly the same consistency as hand sanitizer.

In the test runs, the researchers used used living cells including human blood-vessel and canine kidney cells—as well as materials like silicone, hydrogel and other polymers—which were injected into the material using tiny needles.

From there, the printed objects can be stitched together into a variety of shapes that have more structural integrity, so that they don’t collapse. The researchers were able to shape the material into a small-scale model of human brain using the hydrogel as a show of how intricate and detailed the printing can get.

There is a catch with the gel, however. It’s not organic, so it currently cannot be used to keep tissues alive during the printing process. It also can’t be used for structures printed under a certain size because the small particles can slip out of the gel.

If the scientists behind the process can overcome those shortcomings, the technique could potentially be used to print real, usable organs. That development is a long way off from being a reality, but the possibility presents a considerable amount of promise going forward, and the researchers from the project are optimistic about the future of 3D printing real human tissue.

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