What would you get if you combined a 3D printer and sugar? While you may think you’d get intricate, possibly complex candies or sweets, like hi-tech candyfloss, the reality of it all is quite startling, as using sugar and a 3D printer, researchers have been able to create an artificial liver.
3D printers are increasingly showing their versatility, crafting just about anything and now, with the creation of this artificial liver, it seems that the 3D printer can actually create organs.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and MIT, publishing their work in the journal, Nature Materials, detailed how they were able to grow an artificial liver from just sugar, saying that the first step towards an artificial liver was the growth of blood vessels.
In this, to create a network of blood vessels, the research team first created an armature or lattice, made from sugar, printed by a 3D printer, upon which tissue and blood vessels were laid out to create the proper network for circulation. After these were then grown, the sugar lattice was melted away using water, and then the blood vessels were surrounded by liver cells, effectively creating a synthetic organ.
Prof. Sangeeta Bhatia of MIT, who worked on the study, spoke about it, saying, “So far, it's been difficult to make organs big enough so that they could provide useful function - and if you implant any tissue thicker than about a millimeter, we can't provide it enough nutrients without also engineering blood vessels into the tissue. We created a network of places that we wish vessels to grow into, so they would become piping into the tissue, and we printed those in 3D out of sugar. Sugar is a very nice material that can be dissolved away in the presence of living tissue; it's very friendly to biological tissue. We then surrounded the network with the cells that we would like to be fed by the blood vessels when the tissue is implanted - and once we have this structure of pipes-to-be and tissue, we dissolve away the sugar using water. We showed that you can use a 3D printer to print an arbitrary network of vessels for any tissue shape or any network of blood vessels, and then surround them with cells that you would like to create the organ out of. We tried to make a liver, so we surrounded them with liver cells, but one could do it with any other tissue.”