Thursday, May 1, 2014

Bioprinting an Italian TV Producer

Science journalist Barbara Bernardini, working on a story for Italy’s National TV RAI-1 news channel, was in Professor Shaochen Chen’s laboratory this week reporting on his groundbreaking work in the field of 3D bioprinting for medical applications. During her visit, graduate student Peter Chung snapped Bernardini’s image with a smartphone and then printed it into a hydrogel as shown in this microscopic image. Chen’s lab has already demonstrated the ability to print complex 3D microstructures, such as blood vessels, in mere seconds out of soft biocompatible hydrogels that contain living cells.  The whole process including taking the photo and preparing the sample took less than 10 minutes and the printing was complete in a mere second.  

Chen’s biofabrication technology, called dynamic optical projection stereolithography (DOPsL), can produce the micro- and nanoscale resolution required to print tissues that mimic nature’s fine-grained details, including blood vessels, which are essential for distributing nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. Without the ability to print vasculature, an engineered liver or kidney, for example, is useless in regenerative medicine. Current fabrication techniques, such as photolithography and micro-contact printing, are limited to generating simple geometries or 2D patterns. Stereolithography is best known for its ability to print large objects such as tools and car parts. With DOPsL, Chen’s team was able to achieve more complex geometries common in nature such as flowers, spirals and hemispheres.  Other current 3D fabrication techniques, such as two-photon photopolymerization, can take hours to fabricate a 3D part.

The biofabrication technique uses a computer projection system and precisely controlled micromirrors to shine light on a selected area of a solution containing photo-sensitive biopolymers and cells. This photo-induced solidification process forms one layer of solid structure at a time, but in a continuous fashion. The technology is part of a new biofabrication technology that Chen is developing under a four-year,$1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (R01EB012597).

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