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High-Speed 3-D Organ Printing in Development

Green laser beams

(SD-Pictures, Pixabay)

23 May 2019. A research team in Europe and Israel is devising a new process for faster bio-printing of human organs with three-dimensional printing. The Brighter project — short for Bio-printing by light sheet lithography: engineering complex tissues with high resolution at high speed — is scheduled to begin in July and funded by a 3-year grant of €3.45 million ($US 3.9 million) from the European Commission.

The Brighter project applies lithography techniques similar to those in semiconductor fabrication for producing human tissue and organs for transplant. The work aims to correct problems in bio-printing from low speeds and resolution with conventional 3-D printers. The long times needed for bottom-up printing decreases the viability of cells distributed through printer heads, and the low resolution fails to match the complex nature of native tissue, with results that cannot include vital components, such as blood vessels..

The project team is led by Elena Martínez at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, whose biomimetic systems for cell engineering lab studies micro-fabrication of 3-D cell and tissue cultures. The team includes researchers from Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, Technion in Haifa, Israel, and the companies Cellendes in Reutlingen, Germany, and Mycronic in Täby, Sweden.

The Brighter team is developing a 3-D printing technology more like semiconductor lithography than conventional 3-D printing. The Brighter technique uses hydrogels, water-based and bio-compatible polymers, with light-sensitive molecules that respond to a light source beamed through the printer head. That light source is a thin laser like that used in light sheet microscopy to visualize light-sensitive tissue and cells, such as in embryos.

This light sheet technique, from the Physical Biology Group at Goethe University led by Ernst Stelzer, not only allows for much faster production than conventional 3-D printing, it also enables much more complex structures, including different tissue densities and fine tubes for growth of blood vessels through the printed tissue. After exposure to the lasers, unused hydrogel is washed out, leaving a matrix for seeding by stem cells, which can then differentiate into functioning tissue and eventually organs.

“This method will enable us to adjust the spatial structure and the stiffness with an unprecedented resolution so that we can create the same heterogeneous microstructures that cells find in natural tissues,” says Francesco Pampaloni, a cell biologist in Stelzer’s lab and member of the Brighter team in a Goethe University statement. The project team plans to produce 3-D printed skin tissue, with hair follicles and sweat glands, as well as allow for the growth of a blood vessel network.

The Brighter project is part of the EU-wide Horizon 2020 framework, under its Future and Emerging Technologies Open program.

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