3D Printing Livers

The University of Utrecht has a team that is successfully bioprinting “liver units” that are able to do some of the functions of a human liver and may open the door to new medical treatments. This isn’t simply printing a fake liver in a jar though, instead the technique uses optical tomography to rapidly create small structures of about 1 cc of volume in less than 20 seconds.

Apparently, one problem with printing hydrogels full of biological structures is that passing them through a nozzle tends to disturb the delicate structures.  This technique uses no nozzle or layers, which makes it useful in this situation.

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Printer Uses Algae To Print Live Structures

There’s a famous scene in the movie version of Frankenstein — but not in the book — where the doctor exclaims: “It’s alive!” We wonder if researchers at TU Delft had the same experience after printing living structures using algae. Of course, they aren’t creating life or even reanimating it. They are simply depositing living cells in artificial structures using a bio-compatible substrate. According to the paper, the living cells or bio ink can build up layers in a 3D printing fashion and the structures are “self-standing.”

There are some advantages, for example that the algae get their energy from sunlight. Of course they also have to eat, so unless you provide some snacks, your print will die off in about 3 days.

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3D Printing Skin Or Maybe A Dermal Regenerator

In space — at least on Star Trek — no one can hear you apply a band-aid. That’s too low tech. When a Star Fleet officer gets an ouchie, the real or holographic doctor waves a dermal regenerator over the afflicted area, and new skin magically appears. Science fiction, huh? Maybe not. A group of scientists from Canada recently published a paper on a handheld instrument for depositing “skin precursor sheets” over full-thickness burns. The paper is behind a paywall and if you don’t know how to get it or don’t want to get it, you can see a video from the University of Toronto, below.

Although they use the term 3D printing, the device is more like a paint roller. Several substances merge together in the print head and lay down on the burn in broad stripes.

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Syringe Pump Turns CNC Machine Into A Frosting Bot

“Amazing how with only the power of 3D-printing, two different computers, hundreds of dollars in CNC machinery, a lathe, and modern microcontroller magic, I can almost decorate a cupcake as well as a hyperactive ten-year-old.”  We can think of no better way to sum up [Justin]’s experiment in CNC frosting application, which turns out to only be a gateway to more interesting use cases down the road.

Granted, it didn’t have to be this hard. [Justin] freely admits that he took the hard road and made parts where off-the-shelf components would have been fine. The design for the syringe pump was downloaded from Thingiverse and does just about what you’d expect – it uses a stepper motor to press down on the plunger of a 20-ml syringe full of frosting. Temporarily attached in place of the spindle on a CNC router, the pump dispenses onto the baked goods of your choice, although with an irregular surface like a muffin top the results are a bit rough. The extruded frosting tends to tear off and drop to the surface of the cake, distorting the design. We’d suggest mapping the Z-height of the cupcake first so the frosting can dispense from a consistent height.

Quality of the results is not really the point, though. As [Justin] teases, this hardware is in support of bioprinting of hydrogels, along with making synthetic opals. We’re looking forward to those projects, but in the meantime, maybe we can all just enjoy a spider silk beer with [Justin].

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3D Printing Electronics Direct To Body

Some argue that the original Star Trek series predicted the flip phone. Later installments of the franchise used little badges. But Babylon 5 had people talking into a link that stuck mysteriously to the back of their hand. This might turn out to be true if researchers at the University of Minnesota have their way. They’ve modified a common 3D printer to print electronic circuits directly to the skin, including the back of the hand, as you can see in the video below. There’s also a preview of an academic paper available, but you’ll have to pay for access to that, for now, unless you can find it on the gray market.

In addition, the techniques also allowed printing biologically compatible material directly on the skin wound of a mouse. The base printer was inexpensive, an Anycubic Delta Rostock that sells for about $300.

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Cheap 3D Printers Make Cheaper(er) Bioprinters

In case you missed it, prices on 3D printers have hit an all time low. The hardware is largely standardized and the software is almost exclusively open source, so it makes sense that eventually somebody was going to start knocking these things out cheap. There are now many 3D printers available for less than $300 USD, and a few are even dipping under the $200 mark. Realistically, this is about as cheap as these machines are ever going to get.

A startup by the name of 3D Cultures has recently started capitalizing on the availability of these inexpensive high-precision three dimensional motion platforms by co-opting an existing consumer 3D printer to deliver their Tissue Scribe bioprinter. Some may call this cheating, but we see it for what it really is: a huge savings in cost and R&D time. Why design your own kinematics when somebody else has already done it for you?

Despite the C-3PO level of disguise that 3D Cultures attempted by putting stickers over the original logo, the donor machine for the Tissue Scribe is very obviously a Monoprice Select Mini, the undisputed king of beginner printers. The big change of course comes from the removal of the extruder and hotend, which has been replaced with an apparatus that can heat and depress a standard syringe.

At the very basic level, bioprinting is performed in the exact same way as normal 3D printing; it’s merely a difference in materials. While 3D printing uses molten plastic, bioprinting is done with organic materials like algae or collagen. In the Tissue Scribe, the traditional 3D printer hotend has been replaced with a syringe full of the organic material to be printed which is slowly pushed down by a NEMA 17 stepper motor and 8mm leadscrew.

The hotend heating element and thermistor that once were used to melt plastic are still here, but now handle warming the metal frame used to hold the syringe. In theory these changes would have only required some tweaks to the firmware calibration to get working. Frankly, it makes perfect sense, and is certainly a much easier to pull off than some of the earlier attempts at homebrew biological printers we’ve seen.

We won’t comment on the Tissue Scribe’s price point of $999 USD except to say that in the field of bioprinters, that’s pocket change. Still, it seems inevitable that somebody will build and document their own bolt-on biological extruder now that 3D Cultures has shown how simple it really is, so they may find themselves undercut in the near future.

If all this talk of hot extruded collagen has got you interested, we’ve seen some excellent resources on the emerging field of bioprinting that will probably be right up your alley.

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Printing Soft Body Tissue

If you are like us, you tend to do your 3D printing with plastic or maybe–if you are lucky enough to have access to an expensive printer–metal. [Adam Feinberg] and his team at Carnegie Mellon print with flesh. Well, sort of. Printing biomaterials is a burgeoning research area. However, printing material that is like soft tissue has been challenging. In a recent paper, [Feinberg] and company outline a method called FRESH. FRESH uses a modified MakerBot or Printrbot Jr. printer to deposit hydrogel into a gelatin slurry support bath. The gelatin holds the shape of the object until printing is complete, at which point it can be removed with heat. If you don’t want to wade through the jargon in the actual paper, the journal Science has a good overview (and see their video below).

The gelatin is mixed with calcium chloride and gelled for 12 hours at low temperature. It was then turned into a slurry using an off-the-shelf consumer-grade blender. A centrifuge was used to remove most of the soluble gelatin. Printing inks were made with materials like collagen and fibrin. The FRESH process actually uses liquid  ink that gels in the gelatin.

The printer uses an open source syringe extruder found on the NIH 3D print exchange (they never say exactly  which one, though and we had trouble matching it from the pictures). In true hacker fashion, the printer prints its own syringe extruder using the stock one from ABS and PLA plastic. Then you simply replace the standard extruder with the newly printed one (reusing the stock stepper motor).

The paper describes printing items including a model of a 5-day-old embryonic chick heart, an artery, and a miniature human brain model. Another team of researchers in Florida have a similar system, as well.

We’ve talked about bioprinting before and even mentioned how to make your own inkjet-based bioprinter. The FRESH method looks like it is in reach of the hacker’s 3D printing workshop. We cringe to think what you will print when you can finally print body parts.

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