3D Printed Microfibers Provide Essential Structural Framework for Growing Living Tissue

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Bioengineers from Penn State University (PSU) believe they have finally discovered the technique to grow living tissues using a 3D printer. They feel this new development will open the doors to the artificial 3D printing of body parts. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Advanced Healthcare Materials. The engineers state that their new development will lead the way to help create a low-cost and efficient method for printing or manufacturing high quality, high-resolution and precise structures which can greatly augment tissue engineering and all of this can be achieved on any standard 3D printer

A structural framework is a structure which forms the base or the foundation stone for a complex and strong body built around and over it. This framework gives the body its strength & shape. As simple a concept as it seems but this core logic has kept scientists away from building sustainable bio parts. But finally, it seems, the wait is over. Bioengineers from Penn State University (PSU) believe they have cracked the code and this new finding will open the doors for 3D printing artificial body parts.

In the published article titled “3D Near-Field Electrospinning of Biomaterial Microfibers with Potential for Blended Microfiber-Cell-Loaded Gel Composite Structures”, the engineers explained their low-cost and novel method to fabricate polymer-based fiber patterns on non-conductive materials which can act as the structural framework for tissue engineering. The fascinating part is that all this can be achieved with only a standard 3D printer.

Cells grown on polymeric fibers created by 3-D near-field electrospinning. Image Credit: Justin Brown, Ph.D./Penn State University (PSU)

As per Justin Brown, Ph.D., the senior study investigator & associate professor of biomedical engineering at PSU, “We are trying to make stem-cell-loaded hydrogels reinforced with fibers like the rebar in cement. If we can lend some structure to the gel, we can grow living cells in defined patterns and eventually the fibers will dissolve and go away.” The method employed by the team is a strategic combination of electrospinning and 3D printing. Electrospinning is a technique which uses an electric charge to spin nanometer threads from a solution. The team thinks this will be a cost-effective and reliable process and may also enable fabrication of muscles and tendons together.

According to lead study investigator, Pouria Fattahi, “The underlying idea is that if we could multiplex electrospinning with a collagen gel and bioprinting, we could build large and complex tissue interfaces, such as bone to cartilage. Others have created these combination tissues using a micro-extrusion bioprinter.”

Currently, the tissue generation techniques used and research around the world involve building different tissues separately and then combining them together by using some sort of a binding agent. However, in a live body, this tissue formation happens together or simultaneously. For example, two different tissues, tendon and muscle, are needed then the 3D printer can deposit a precise amount of fiber pattern to form a platform in the hydrogel. Once the tissue grows, the platform can be dissolved leaving the tissue to grow by itself.

This newly developed technique gives more gravity to the research carried out by PSU engineers as their technique builds new tissues like the natural process. Even different tissues can be grown together and this is a ‘first’ anywhere in the world.

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