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.


Real-life ‘Iron Man’ suits to be mass produced by Panasonic

The dream of being Tony Stark in your own Iron Man suit has moved one step closer after Panasonic has announced its ‘powered suit’ will go into mass production. The suit will give the super-human strength to the wearer as well as being able to move at the speed of a gentle run for between two and three hours per charge.

The test version of the suit was able to lift objects weighing 100kg and run at a speed of 8km/h on a hill with a ten degree gradient. The mass produced version is designed to lift 30kg for long periods of time.

It won’t be long until people on the streets will be walking around with super-human strength as the suit is set to go on sale in 2015. And it might actually be within reach for many; Panasonic plans to sell the suits at the surprisingly affordable price of just 500,000 Yen (£2,900/$4,900).

A system of mass production is being created for this year and the company hopes to make more than 1,000 per year.

The suit is by no means the first that has been developed to allow superhuman strength but it is the first to be mass produced.

Developed by Panasonic subsidiary Activelink, the suit is powered by a larger version of the batteries used in smartphones and computers. The lithium ion battery powers a motor that allows the suit to grip and release.

It is also possible to programme the arms so they can be used for operations involving hammers and digging – with an attachable hammer and a scoop. The wearer of the suit uses grips near their arms to control the movements of the suit.

Panasonic now plans to partner with other major companies to sell the suit and is also considering the possibility of renting it.

The company sees the suits helping in short-term situations such as emergencies and natural disasters. When these type of suits become the norm they may be able to help save lives on a daily basis.

The suit gives a glimpse into the potential for robotics to aid and enhance human abilities; we can see future versions combining biometrics to aid the movement of those who have suffered physical injuries and disabilities.

It is rumoured that Panasonic is also developing a suit that can be worn under a spacesuit or diving gear to aid movement in different environments.


Image courtesy of Panasonic.