3D Printed Human Tissue Just Got Closer to Reality

Scientists have moved a step closer to creating fully-functioning replacement tissue at the push of a button with the development of a remarkable new bioprinting method.

Developed at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the bioprinting method involves the creation of 3D tissue constructs made up of different interconnected cell types and blood vessels. This represents a major milestone in the creation of artificial tissue.

This is the first time that tissue constructs of this complexity have been produced. Previous attempts to create lab-grown tissue have been limited to very thin slices because scientists have been unable to develop a system to supply the interior cells with oxygen and nutrients or remove carbon dioxide.

The team behind the project, lead by core faculty member Dr Jennifer Lewis, created a custom 3D printer that can print multiple materials together with a very high degree of accuracy. They also created “bio-inks”, which contain key ingredients found in living tissues, and printed these to create the tissue construct.

Although the results are still in their early stages – the team still have work to do to turn the printed blood vessel lining cells into fully-working blood cells – the potential for this technology is significant.

Bioprinting: Building in Blood Vessels from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.

Writing in a release the Wyss Institute website, the Institute said that the development “represents an early but important step toward building fully functional replacements for injured or diseased tissue that can be designed from CAT scan data using computer-aided design (CAD), printed in 3D at the push of a button and used by surgeons to repair or replace damaged tissue.”

Dr Lewis agreed, saying: “This is the foundational step toward creating 3D living tissue.”

In the shorter term, the technology has the potential to be used to assess the safety of medicines, which is what Dr Lewis and her team are now focusing on. “That’s where the immediate potential for impact is,” she explained.

Bioprinting: Building with Bio-Inks from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.

Once the 3D tissue is developed sufficiently it could be used in drug development to establish possible side effects and measure the effectiveness of drug candidates. This could prove revolutionary for the pharmaceutical industry, and is something that many people have seen as a holy grail for drug development – it could reduce the time it takes to bring medicines to market and reduce or even remove the reliance on animal testing.

It could prove invaluable for scientist studying living tissue and how it heals, grows and forms tumours. “Tissue engineers have been waiting for a method like this,” said Wyss Institute founding director Dr Don Ingber.

The Wyss Institute is known for its innovations in biomimetics – the practice of taking inspiration from nature for scientific design – and has previously produced artificial jellyfish, the lung-on-a-chip and swarms of robotic insects.


Image courtesy of the Wyss Institute.


You really can 3D print anything: Ford’s edible chocolate car

For the first time a car that you can eat rather than drive has been made. Technically it is only one inch long but it’s still possible to eat the 3D printed chocolate Mustang that manufacturer Ford has created.

Ford teamed up with 3D Systems’ Sugar Lab from Los Angles, US, to produce the tiny treat from a full scale CAD version of the company’s newest car.

It may be a rather niche area, which undoubtedly will not be highly competitive, but after printing the chocolate models the partnership proudly stated that it was the world’s first 3D-printed car that can be eaten.

In terms of 3D printing food the chocolate car isn’t a revolutionary step forward but it does show the flexibility which is possible when printing food. The ability to print specific shapes will give food manufacturers with distinctive brands the option of being able to produce their products with ease, rather than having to use complex moulds.

Liz von Hasseln, the creative director at 3D Systems/The Sugar Lab who produced the edible model said it was a challenge to take it from the full CAD version of the car to a small piece of chocolate.

Explaining the printing process she says: “The printer uses an inkjet print head to very precisely paint water onto a dry sugar sub-strain where the model exists at the cross section, and then it spreads more sugar.

“It paints more water onto the sugar and the water recrystalises the sugar and allows it to harden.”

Once it has had time to harden the group then take out the entire production and clear away the excess sugar to reveal the model.

The company Sugar Lab company was created after Liz, together with her husband Kyle, 3D printed a birthday cake for a friend because they didn’t have an oven.

The print of the edible Mustang was made as a one-time special but Ford has said it is considering licensing the application in case it wanted to manufacture Mustang sweets in the future.

Ford already 3D print a large amount of parts and prototypes but the willingness of large companies to consider using 3D printing for food purposes does show some hope for the future of food manufacturing using the techniques.

Ford supervisor of 3D printing, Paul Susalla, said: “3D printing is one of the hottest buzzwords in the news today and it’s great to see more consumers learning about the technology and its applications.

“We wanted to create something fun to show that while 3D printing made these edible Mustangs, manufacturing-level 3D printing was used in the development of Ford’s all-new sports car.”


Video still courtesy of Ford.