‘Printing’ organs with hydrogels

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Dutch researchers have developed a way to ‘print’ stable cell-containing scaffolds, creating a method that could one day be used to help make tailor-made tissue grafts and even grow whole synthetic organs.

Jacqueline Alblas and her group from the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, The Netherlands, have made polymer hydrogel ‘ink’ materials that are fluid enough to be used in a printing device, but can later be converted into stable structures that don’t fall apart when handled. They can incorporate stem cells into the hydrogels to begin the process of tissue generation within the scaffolds.

The cell-laden hydrogel is printed as a long strand, which can be built up into multi-layered structures, explains Alblas. ‘We made a layer of strands, then a cross-hatched layer on top of that to build upwards, but you can also print circles to make tubes.’ By combining different structures impregnated with different types of cells, it should be possible to build much more complex structures such as tissue grafts that have blood vessels built into them, she adds.

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