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Microfluidic 3D bioprinting allows better reproduction of cellular structures

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At the Stevens Institute of Technology in the United States, a team of researchers is currently working on the development of a bioprinting method based on microfluidics. This microfluidic bio-printing is a technique that manipulates fluids with characteristics on the order of a micrometer. The interesting part is that this project would give researchers the ability to work on a much smaller scale than ever before, even allowing the creation of any type of human tissue. Researchers could very precisely reproduce the biological characteristics of cells in the human body, thereby advancing, for example, organ transplants.

Led by Professor Robert Chang, the team developed a computational model to accelerate microfluidic bioprinting and enable organ development. According to the Division of Transplantation (DoT) of the US Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, there are currently 105,940 people on the national transplant waiting list. The lack of available organs for transplants is fatal for people across the country, and this problem could eventually be solved with 3D printing. As you probably know, bio-printing is able to reproduce personalized cellular structures to facilitate the creation of, for example, skin or even organs. Although we are still a long way from having a 3D-printed heart or a fully functioning kidney, as this latest breakthrough has made clear, progress is real.

Microfluidics is a science that manipulates fluids with characteristics of the order of a micrometer

The research carried out by the researchers of this American team could tip the scales. This is particularly because it is based on microfluidics. Other 3D bioprinters on the market are mainly based on extrusion, which consists of extruding inks layer by layer with a thickness of about 200 microns. However, thanks to microfluidic bio-printing, it would be possible to go down to just a few tens of microns and thus have a scale much closer to that of the cell itself. Robert Chang explains: “Creating new organs on command and saving lives without the need for a human donor will be of immense benefit to healthcare. However, achieving this goal is tricky because printing organs using “bio ‘inks’ – hydrogels loaded with cultured cells – requires a degree of precise control over the geometry and size of the printed microfibers that current 3D printers simply cannot achieve.

By getting as close as possible to the scale of human cells, the team would be able to reproduce the biological characteristics of each one more finely. The team developed a computer model of a microfluidic printhead, to control parameters such as flow velocity and fluid dynamics. This model allows him to modify the geometries and material properties of the bio-printed structure. Above all, it offers the possibility of mixing several bio-inks, and therefore several types of cells, to design more complex organs.

Current 3D bioprinters are mainly based on an extrusion process (photo credits: Département06-Xavier Giraud)

So far, researchers say they have printed bladders using 3D-printed scaffolds. But by combining several bio-inks, they hope to go much further. Robert Chang concludes, “Being able to operate at this scale, while precisely mixing the bio-inks, allows us to reproduce any type of tissue. This technology is still so recent that we do not know exactly what it will allow. But we know it will open the door to creating important new structures and new types of biology..”

Pending further developments, you can visit the Stevens Institute website HERE. What do you think of this microfluidic bioprinting method? Let us know in a comment below or on our Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.