Global Technology - September 2019

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Artificial organs and tissues can be used to develop and test new drugs, repair damaged tissue and even replace entire organs in the human body.  Unfortunately, current fabrication methods limit the ability of tissue engineers to produce free-form shapes and achieve high cell viability.

But now, French researchers, have come up with an optical technique that takes just a few seconds to sculpt complex tissue shapes in a biocompatible hydrogel containing stem cells.  The resulting tissue can then be vascularized by adding endothelial cells.

The team described this high-resolution printing method recently in the journal Advanced Materials.

The technique called volumetric bioprinting is expected to change the way cellular engineering specialists work, allowing them to create a new breed of personalized, functional bio-printed organs.

To create tissue, the researchers projected a laser down a spinning tube filled with a stem-cell-laden hydrogel.  They shaped the tissue by focusing the energy from the light at specific locations, which then solidify.  After just a few seconds, a complex 3D shape appeared, suspended in the gel.  The stem cells in the hydrogel were largely unaffected by this process. The researchers then introduced endothelial cells to vascularize the tissue.

This demonstrated that it’s possible to create a tissue construct measuring several centimeters, which is a clinically useful size.  Examples of their work include a valve similar to a heart valve, a meniscus and a complex-shaped part of a femur.  They were also able to build interlocking structures.

Unlike conventional bioprinting, which is a slow, layer-by-layer process, this technique is fast and offers greater design freedom without jeopardizing the cells’ viability.

This research could be a real game-changer.  The characteristics of human tissue depend to a large extent on a highly sophisticated extracellular structure, and the ability to replicate this complexity could lead to a number of real clinical applications.  Using this technique, labs can mass-produce artificial tissues or organs at unprecedented speed.  This sort of replicability is essential when it comes to testing new drugs in vitro, and it could help...

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