Printing high-resolution living tissues is difficult, as the cells often move within printed structures, and can collapse on themselves. A method of 3D-printing laboratory-grown cells to form living structures was developed that produces tissues in self-contained cells that support the structures to keep their shape. The approach could be used in regenerative medicine, enabling the production of complex tissues and cartilage that would potentially support, repair, or augment diseased and damaged areas of the body.
The cells were contained within protective nanoliter droplets wrapped in a lipid coating that could be assembled, layer by layer, into living structures. Producing printed tissues in this way improves the survival rate of the individual cells, and allowed the researchers to improve on current techniques by building each tissue, one drop at a time, to a more favorable resolution.
To be useful, artificial tissues need to be able to mimic the behaviors and functions of the human body. The method enables the fabrication of patterned cellular constructs, which, once fully grown, mimic or potentially enhance natural tissues. The high-resolution cell-printing platform was constructed from relatively inexpensive components, and could be used to reproducibly create artificial tissues with appropriate complexity from a range of cells, including stem cells. With further development, the materials could have applications in shaping reproducible human tissue models that could eliminate the need for clinical animal testing, and in diagnostic applications for drug or toxin screening.