(Note: This article originally appeared on Acceler8or.com on July 31, 2012. It’s republished here for my own archives.)
Scientists in Canada have invented a device they claim can print large patches of living tissue.
In an article which appears this month in the journal Advanced Materials, Axel Guenther of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, and Milica Radisic of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry at the University of Toronto detail a machine they’ve created which can precisely print living tissue to order.
Their device uses biochemicals to create layers of “mosaic hydrogel,” a substrate into which living cells can be precisely deposited, like agar in a petri dish. The placement of the cells is so precise, the scientists were able to print the word “Toronto” on to the substrate.
But beyond manufacturing single layers of the tissue, by collecting layers of the printed tissue material, the scientists were able to build three-dimensional structures of substantial thickness.
It isn’t yet commercialized, but Guenther has bold plans for the technology. “My laboratory is currently pursuing different applications of the technology—different tissues,” Guenther said in a press release. “But one of my dreams is to one day engineer a vascularized leaf – perhaps a maple leaf.”
Needless to say, a system for printing living tissue on demand could have enormous ramifications for future biotech. Low hanging fruit? Generating new skin for treating burn victims, growing custom organs for transplant, or synthesizing tissues specifically designed to produce new medicines. But paired with recent advances in synthetic biology, there may an amplification effect which we can scarcely imagine now.
Only time will tell.