This month is Space Month at MakerBot1 , so let’s talk about some space-age stuff: 3D printing human tissue, and using MakerBot to do it.
Jordan Miller, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (and a co-founder of Hive76!) had a brainstorm one day. One of the big problems in trying to convince living cells to grow into things like liver tissue or heart tissue is that the cells ultimately die when they can’t get nutrients. The tissues in our bodies have blood vessels to solve this problem, but trying to 3D print a tiny empty space is just hard.
Jordan’s breakthrough was to not even try to print empty space. Instead, make a model of the blood vessel network, or vascular system, in a material that will ultimately dissolve away: sugar. Enter MakerBot and RepRap, and enter an exciting new research platform for tissue engineering. The paper was recently published in the journal Nature Materials.
The back and forth of these technologies has continued, and Jordan and his collaborators made use of MakerBot in a few ways. The most important thing to recognize is that this work would have been impossible if not for open hardware systems like MakerBot and RepRap. Here’s why.
If you want to squeeze sugar through a small nozzle, you won’t do it quite the same way as you would with plastic. Sugar is brittle and doesn’t shape nicely into a wire and wind through gears. So a standard filament extruder was out of the question.
Light bulb! A hot glue gun squeezing sugar sticks instead of glue sticks would do the trick. Jordan used a MakerBot CupCake (#000233!) to make the custom mounting for the glue gun contraption. Watch it in the video below.
With this adapted extruder, heated build platform, and a lot of trial and error, this research team has introduced a great new way to work with 3D-printed tissues.
- since we can’t figure out if we actually invented the concept of Space Month. Can someone help? [↩]
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