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Biologics Feature

Penn State Associate Professor Justin L. Brown and Students / Courtesy of Penn State Engineering Lab

Engineer Used Hobbyist 3-D Printer to Grow Human Tissue

Biloine W. Young • Wed, December 20th, 2017

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Engineers from Pennsylvania State University believe they have found a way to create the structural framework for growing living tissue using an off-the-shelf, hobbyist 3-D printer.

At present, nearly all transplant tissues, such as hearts and tendons, come from living or dead donors. These researchers are looking for a way to create replacement tissues by using inexpensive and available methods. Their hope is to grow replacement tissues using a 3–D printer and electrospinning to produce a scaffold for tissues that could support the production of combined muscles and tendons, or tendons and cartilage.

Electrospinning, is a process that uses an electric charge to spin nanometer threads from either a polymer melt or a solution.

“We are trying to make stem-cell-loaded hydrogels reinforced with fibers like the rebar in cement,” said Justin L. Brown, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering. “If we can lend some structure to the gel, we can grow living cells in defined patterns and eventually the fibers will dissolve and go away

“The idea is that if we could multiplex electrospinning with a collagen gel and bioprinting, we could build large and complex tissue interfaces, such as bone to cartilage,” said doctoral student researcher Pouria Fattahi. “Others have created these combination tissues using a micro-extrusion bioprinter.”

Current strategies create the different tissues separately and then combine them using some type of adhesive or connector. However, in the body, tissues such as cartilage and bone, and tendons and muscles, grow together seamlessly. The researchers explain that if two different tissues—muscle and tendon—are needed, the 3-D printer can alter the pattern of threads in such a way that the transition could be seamless, resulting in a naturally formed, two-part tissue replacement.

The research has been published in the Journal of Advanced Healthcare Materials.

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