Bits of life, drop by drop

Jan 16, 2012 By Sarah Perrin
Credit: Hamad M

(PhysOrg.com) -- Swiss scientists are working on creating artificial living tissues using a very special kind of inkjet printer. Still in its initial stages, this technology could nonetheless soon provide biological samples that could be used for testing new drugs.

An important step toward creating artificial living material has been made by EPFL researchers. They are working on a technique that should eventually allow them to “print” living constructs resembling human tissues in which can develop and interact in a coordinated and physiological manner. Their research results have recently been published in the scientific journal Advanced Materials.

“We have not yet created tissue, strictly speaking,” explains Professor Jürgen Brügger, head of EPFL’s Microsystems 1 Laboratory. “At this stage, we have essentially studied a way in which to structure biological materials in three dimensions; this research will improve cell culture and then will eventually be used as a base for creating tissues.”

Someday this new technology, which is the fruit of joint research between EPFL’s Engineering School (STI) and School of Life Sciences (SV), will make it possible to print tissues one drop at a time. Progress made in several different areas has combined to bring the technology to this point.

First, printing involves ink, a raw material that’s challenging to design, explains Professor Matthias Lutolf, head of EPFL’s Stem Cell Engineering Laboratory. “Mixing the right ingredients isn’t sufficient. The cells grow in a haphazard manner, randomly, and won’t develop into viable tissue.”

A more malleable material

To make up a coherent whole, the cells need an environment that provides the right kinds of signals that induce very specific behavior in each of the cells – proliferation, migration, differentiation or death. In natural tissues, these signals come from molecules that make up a complex extracellular matrix (ECM). By studying the connections and communications taking place between cells and between cells and ECM molecules, the scientists were able to reconstruct this matrix and thus create a new kind of biological ink.

On a technical level, the researchers from EPFL’s two Microsystems Laboratories – under the leadership of professors Jürgen Brugger and Philippe Renaud – focused on developing a gel that could be used as a base from which the tissue could be constructed, as well as a strategy for printing droplets. Thanks to the gel, made up of concentrated calcium, and the printing sequence they came up with, each droplet of ink landing on the surface sticks to it and keeps its initial shape instead of spreading out.

“The various tissue elements don’t blend together uncontrollably,” explains Brugger. “Above all, the material polymerizes more quickly and becomes flexible and malleable, which allows us to assemble several layers and to envision building channels, which are indispensable for fluid perfusion, nutrient input and waste elimination.”

Testing new drugs

“Thanks to the combination of these technical and biological advances, we are working towards the growth of a tissue in which the cells develop and live happily,” Lutolf explains.

Even though it will still be quite some time before can be constructed, this technology could lead to very promising applications on the medium term. “ An exiting avenue would be to develop 3D constructs that function like human tissues and could be used as models for testing ,” says Lutolf. “This is not only very interesting in a biological sense, but could also reduce the need for animal testing.”

Explore further: Parasitic worm genomes: largest-ever dataset released

Provided by Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

4.3 /5 (3 votes)

Related Stories

A touchscreen you can really feel (w/ video)

Nov 16, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Swiss researchers have invented a new generation of tactile surfaces with relief effects – users can feel actual raised keys under their fingers. This technology could have many applications, particularly ...

When robots learn from our mistakes

May 26, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Robots typically acquire new capacities by imitation. Now, EPFL scientists are doing the inverse -- developing machines that can learn more rapidly and outperform humans by starting from failed ...

New biomaterial more closely mimics human tissue

May 26, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new biomaterial designed for repairing damaged human tissue doesn’t wrinkle up when it is stretched. The invention from nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego marks ...

Recommended for you

Parasitic worm genomes: largest-ever dataset released

16 hours ago

The largest collection of helminth genomic data ever assembled has been published in the new, open-access WormBase-ParaSite. Developed jointly by EMBL-EBI and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, this new ...

Bitter food but good medicine from cucumber genetics

Nov 27, 2014

High-tech genomics and traditional Chinese medicine come together as researchers identify the genes responsible for the intense bitter taste of wild cucumbers. Taming this bitterness made cucumber, pumpkin ...

New button mushroom varieties need better protection

Nov 27, 2014

A working group has recently been formed to work on a better protection of button mushroom varieties. It's activities are firstly directed to generate consensus among the spawn/breeding companies to consider ...

Cataloguing 10 million human gut microbial genes

Nov 25, 2014

Over the past several years, research on bacteria in the digestive tract (gut microbiome) has confirmed the major role they play in our health. An international consortium, in which INRA participates, has developed the most ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

neovenator
not rated yet Jan 16, 2012
at the current stage of understanding of the complexity of cell/cell and cell/ECM interactions, our knowledge is insufficient to mimic the functions of even the simplest ECMs in the body.. Thus, I am quite skeptical that they will be able to get valid "in-vivo-like" results from the drug-testing experiments they envision.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.