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Engineer from UCLA Develops 3D Printer that can Create Complex Biological Tissues

3D printer

An engineer from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has developed a technique that makes use of a specially adapted 3D printer to build complex biological materials such as complex tissues from different materials.

The development of this new device, which was announced in an official release by UCLA Health, is poised to take advance regenerative medicine a step further and especially help in the development of complex artificial tissues that can be used in transplants and other surgeries – thereby advancing the use of regenerative medicine.

The technique involves the use of a light-based process known as Stereolithography which takes advantage of a customised 3D printer designed by Ali Khademhosseini, a bioengineer at UCLA.

The customised 3D Printer designed by Khademhosseini comprises of two components namely a custom-built microfluidic chip and a digital micromirror. The custom-built microfluidic chip is a small, flat platform. Similar to the size of a computer chip, this chip contains multiple inlets that help “print” different materials. On the other hand, the digital mircomirror is an array of more than a million tiny mirrors that move independently.

3D printer
Above: The custom-built microfluidic chip/Image Credit: Amir Miri/UCLA Health

The proposed technique was used by researchers to bioprint multimaterial microstructures for applications in tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and biosensing. For example, in a study published in the journal Advanced Materials, the researchers demonstrated how they used the device or the customised stereolithography-based bioprinting platform for multimaterial fabrication of heterogenous hyrdrogel constructs.

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The researchers used different types of hydrogels or materials that after passing through the printer formed scaffolds for the growth of the tissue. The micromirrors then directed light onto the surface and illuminated areas indicating the outline of the 3D object being printed. The light also triggered molecular bonds and caused the gels to form a solid material whereas the mirror helped indicate the shape of each new layer as the 3D printed object was printed.

The process is the first to make use of multiple materials for automated stereolithographic bioprinting. This is advancement over the conventional stereolithographic bioprinting, which uses only one type of materials. Although the researchers used only four types of bio-inks, they indicate that the process can be used to accommodate as many inks or materials as required.

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Using the device, the researchers made complex 3D structures that mimicked parts of muscle tissue and musculoskeletal connective tissues and even printed shapes that mimicked tumours with networks of blood vessels, which could potentially be used as biological models to investigate cancers. The researchers also tested these printed structures by implanting them in mice models. The structures showed positive results.

Speaking about the new technique, Ali Khademhosseini, who led the study said, “Tissues are wonderfully complex structures, so to engineer artificial versions of them that function properly, we have to recreate their complexity.”

“Our new approach offers a way to build complex biocompatible structures made from different materials,” concluded UCLA’s Levi James Knight Jr., Professor of Engineering at the UCLA Samuell School of Engineering.

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