A team of scientists at Oxford University has used a custom 3D printer to successfully create synthetic tissue that mimics properties of living tissue. Unlike projects underway by Organovo, the Oxford University team did not culture cells from existing, living tissue and expand upon them, but instead utilized water and oil to create a network of ‘programmable’ droplets that, held within lipid film, can replicate some behaviors of living tissue.

[youtube width=”537″ height=”402″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSmPVn7ZI5M[/youtube]

Each of the droplets is around 50 microns wide, about five times larger than living cells—though the research team at Oxford believes that they can make the droplets smaller, and the networks formed could be infinitely larger than the 35,000 droplet “tissues” that they have created so far. The scientists emphasize that the aim of their research is not to create something that faithfully resembles tissue, but rather a substance that can accurately replicate some of the behaviors of living tissues. As the video above shows, these networks can then be “programmed” to fold themselves into specific shapes once they have been printed.

Professor Hagan Bayley of Oxford University’s Department of Chemistry, who led the research told Physorg: “We’ve shown that it is possible to create networks of tens of thousands connected droplets. The droplets can be printed with protein pores to form pathways through the network that mimic nerves and are able to transmit electrical signals from one side of a network to the other.” This means that not only could the synthetic tissue someday replace missing or damaged tissues in living beings, but also that it could be used to help deliver medications to specific areas of the body.

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Via Physorg