A UCLA engineer has developed a technique that uses a specially designed three-dimensional printer (3D printer) to create therapeutic biomaterials from multi-materials.
This development could be an important step towards the on-demand printing of complex artificial tissue for use in implants and other surgical procedures.
“Tissues are splendidly complex structures, so to create artificial versions of them that work properly, we have to replicate their complexity”,
said Ali Handemehocheini, who led the research and is a professor at the Samueli School of Engineering at UCLA.
“Our new approach provides a way to create biocompatible structures from different materials.”
The study was published in Advanced Materials. This technique uses a process based on light, stereolithography, and exploits the capabilities of a specially designed 3D printer designed by Handemehocheini. This printer has a special chip that can print different materials and a digital micro-mirror with over one million tiny mirrors that each moves independently.
The researchers used different types of hydrogels – materials that, when passed through the printer, form frames over which the tissue can grow. The micro-mirrors lead the light onto the print surface, and the illuminated areas indicate the diagram of the three-dimensional object being printed. Light also “triggers” the formation of molecular bonds in the materials, resulting in gels solidifying. As the three-dimensional object is printed, the mirror system changes the pattern of light according to the shape of each new layer.
The process is the first to use multiple materials for automatic stereolithographic bioprinting, which is a significant advance compared to conventional stereolithographic bioprinting, which uses only one material. Although the demonstration device used only four types of “bio-ink”, the researchers emphasize that the process could use as many inks as needed.
Researchers first used the process for simple shapes, such as pyramids. Then there were more complex three-dimensional structures, corresponding muscle tissues and tissues connecting muscles to the skeleton. Also, tumor-shaped shapes were printed with blood vessel networks that could be used as biological models for the study of cancer. These objects were implanted in rats, none of which were discarded.
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