Researchers from the Imperial College in London have developed incredible new techniques in 3D printing, allowing for the creation of structures soft enough to simulate soft organ tissue. Their advancements in the printing process have significant medical benefits, in particular when it comes to tissue regeneration in soft tissue organs such as the brain and lungs.
When medically applied, 3D printed tissue acts as scaffolding and a framework for new cell growth when repairing injuries around regenerating body parts. Successful trials in hard tissue injuries like broken bones, has lead to the further research and discovery. With this new development out of the UK, soft tissue regeneration could be possible through the use of these softer scaffolds, including areas of the brain and spinal chord.
Encouraging soft tissue to grow is a tough feat, and has been difficult for scientist to achieve prior to this trial. However the success experience by scientist in applying their printed structure to human skin grafts without rejection signifies they’re on the right track to greater implications.
Previous efforts at printing such soft structures proved flawed, with the framework collapsing under it’s own weight, or stronger material being rejected by the human body. However in the new procedure, scientists are able to cool the printed tissue directly after printing with dry ice, allowing it to hold it’s structure without becoming rigid.
This advancement in medical 3D printing also provides scientist and researchers with the option to replicate human organs for study and research purposes, forgoing the need to experiment on living animal organs.
Whilst small tissue placements are possible, applications of this larger nature may still be a while off however. "At the moment we have created structures a few centimetres in size, but ideally we'd like to create a replica of a whole organ using this technique,” said Zhengchu Tan, one of the researchers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial.
The results of the trial cap off a huge week in synthetic tissue breakthroughs, following earlier news out of Japan that scientist are edging closer to the creation of artificial human muscle. Whilst support structures have seen serious advancements in the last decade, mimicking the power generated by an actual muscle has consistently eluded scientists.
"[In our] current study, [we] sought to develop a lightweight, soft, wearable assist wear for supporting activities of daily life for older people with weakened muscles and those with mobility issues,” explained Minoru Hashimoto from Shinshu University.
The prototype developed my Hashimoto and his team acts as an assistive robot, with an electric charge applied to mesh electrodes and PVC gel. Different levels of voltage provide variance in the power exerted from the artificial muscle. Following a successful trial on a stroke patient with partial paralysis, the scientists reported positive findings.
“We found that the assist wear enabled natural movement, increasing step length and decreasing muscular activity during straight line walking," said Hashimoto. The applications of Hashimoto’s new robot muscles will allow those with muscle degeneration to simulate full functioning muscular strength with less cumbersome prosthetics to aid mobility.