Watch Tiny Jets Spew Artificial Tissue Made from Living Cell
It’s kind of like a ceramics wheel, but instead of pottery, you get a hydrogel tube of artificial tissue.
Image: University of Twente
The idea of artificial organs has been floated in science fiction for decades—even Captain Jean-Luc Picard, one of the Star Trek’s most wholesome protagonists, is powered by a bionic heart. But this speculative dream is increasingly shaping up to be a real possibility, as scientists advance new technologies that produce neat stuff like bioengineered skin, lab-grown genitals, and 3D-printed liver tissue.
Now, a team led by University of Twente physicist Claas Willem Visser has added to this effort with a novel technique for 3D-printing structures that contain living cells, which could be useful for engineering tissues. The process, which the researchers call “in-air microfluidics,” is described in the journal Science Advances and captured on video. It gets extra points for looking like a futuristic riff on a ceramics class.
The clip shows two jets of fluid shot from separate nozzles. One jet produces alginate, a biological material found in the cells of brown algae, and the other blasts out calcium chloride, an inorganic salt. The fluids collide in midair, which is the central innovation of this approach. Normally, microfluidic experiments involve “lab-on-a-chip” frameworks, in which fluid is directed around submillimeter channels to create droplets with desired properties. This is reliable, but slow, according to the Visser’s team.
“The speed at which droplets leave the chip is typically in the microliter per minute range,” according to a press release. “For clinical and industrial applications, this is not fast enough: filling a volume of a cubic centimeter would take about 1,000 minutes or 17 hours.”
In-air microfluidics, on the other hand, can produce biomaterials hundreds or even thousands of times faster. In the visual examples, Visser’s team created a sponge-like hydrogen tube—filled with living cells and fluid—in minutes.
The concept offers one possible avenue for repairing damaged tissue, and adds to the growing body of research about the intersection of 3D-printing and regenerative medicine.
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