Engineers have developed a 3D printing technology that can create artificial tissue with the same complex geometry of real blood vessels. What is unique about the technique is that it can produce objects with variable firmness, similar to those found in real organs and tissues.
The method offers control over the rigidity of the final printed tissue without changing its shape or geometry.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, outlines a layer-by-layer printing method that offers fine-grain, programmable control over the tissue being engineered.
"The idea was to add independent mechanical properties to 3D structures that can mimic the body's natural tissue," Xiaobo Yin, lead author of the study from University of Colorado, said to university press.
"This technology allows us to create microstructures that can be customised for disease models," said Yin.
Researchers made use of oxygen to control the pliability of the printed vessel or organ.
Oxygen plays an important role in 'curing' of printed tissue " the hardening and setting of the final printed structures. Using different amounts of oxygen in a controlled manner, researchers managed to produce tissues that, for instance, were more pliable where they needed flexibility, or more rigid in places where they needed durability " all while keeping the overall geometry the same.
The researchers demonstrated the technology by 3D printing a Chinese warrior figure with a hard outer layer and a soft interior.
"This is a profound development and an encouraging first step toward our goal of creating structures that function like a healthy cell should function," Yonghui Ding, author of the study, said to university press.
"The challenge is to create an even finer scale for the chemical reactions¦ we see tremendous opportunity ahead for this technology and the potential for artificial tissue fabrication."