Since the invention of the 3-D printer, many things people never imagined possible have become reality. One of those impossibilities, a thing in our ever distant “future,” is the creation of human tissue. Scientists have been working with stem-cell research for years, with many successes and setbacks. But now there’s a new player in the medical marvels game.
Scientists have created a 3-D printer that can construct flesh-like synthetic tissue made up of water droplets coated in lipids. The double-layering technique is reminiscent of cell membranes, and scientists believe that one day it could be used as a replacement for damaged tissue in organs or as a method for delivering drugs to the body.
The creation of such tissue is not a new concept; scientists had already developed a method for constructing it, but doing so by hand was simply too time-consuming. The 3-D printer they created essentially goes through the same process, but much faster.
“The great thing about these droplets is that they use pretty much exclusively biological materials,” said Gabriel Villar, co-author of the study. This makes them extremely viable for medical uses, and now with the 3-D printer capabilities, they can be formed into much more cohesive shapes and sizes.
The synthetic tissue can be made to contract like a muscle, and it conducts electrical signals as well, meaning it functions like a rudimentary nerve would. The next step would be inserting protein channels into the lipid bilayers. This will enable the tissue to have nerve pathways, which makes it more viable as a tissue replacement.
The possibilities seem boundless at this point, and scientists are just getting started. What will another five, ten, twenty years of research reveal? Probably some pretty amazing things.