Researchers at the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology have created a new type of “biological LEGO” building blocks that can be used to form new organs. By binding cells together into tiny block-like structures researchers have found that they can precisely recreate human tissues. Best of all, the technique doesn’t require expensive specialized machinery – the MIT researchers believe that their biological building block technology could be replicated in any lab in the world.
Researchers are calling the new technique “micromasonry”. Cells are bound into blocks using the polymer polyethylene glycol (PEG), which hardens when illuminated. Researchers form little cell blocks and then shine a bright light on them and they harden into form. Once the LEGOS are built they load them into a pre-made cast of PDMS (a silicon based polymer widely used in the medical field) to create living human tissue. They’ve only created veins so far, but theoretically with some cell differentiation and a larger mold they could create entire organs.
We recently reported that Organovo found success printing a human vein with their 3D printer and researchers at Wake Forest University created new skin tissue by spraying cells on burn victims. MIT researchers involved in this LEGO project hope their technology will provide solutions to the problems that have arisen with the former technologies. Both the 3D technology and the cell spraying technology involve expensive machinery not available in all laboratories, whereas MIT’s biological LEGO technology could be replicated in labs around the world.