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Nanoengineers print 3D microstructures in seconds

14 September 2012

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a novel technology that can rapidly fabricate microscale 3D structures out of soft, biocompatible hydrogels.

Three-dimensional blood vessels can be fabricated in seconds out of soft, biocompatible hydrogels (photo courtesy Biomedical Nanotechnology Laboratory, Chen Research Group, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering)

Near term, the technology could lead to better systems for growing and studying cells, including stem cells, in the laboratory. Long-term, the goal is to be able to print biological tissues for regenerative medicine. For example, in the future, doctors may repair the damage caused by heart attack by replacing it with tissue that rolled off of a printer.

Reported in the journal Advanced Materials, the biofabrication technology, called dynamic optical projection stereolithography (DOPsL), was developed in the laboratory of NanoEngineering by Professor Shaochen Chen.

Current fabrication techniques, such as photolithography and micro-contact printing, are limited to generating simple geometries or 2D patterns. Stereolithography is best known for its ability to print large objects such as tools and car parts. The difference, says Chen, is in the micro- and nanoscale resolution required to print tissues that mimic nature’s fine-grained details, including blood vessels.

Without the ability to print vasculature, an engineered liver or kidney, for example, is useless in regenerative medicine. With DOPsL, Chen’s team was able to achieve more complex geometries common in nature such as flowers, spirals and hemispheres.  Other current 3D fabrication techniques, such as two-photon photopolymerization, can take hours to fabricate a 3D part.

The biofabrication technique uses a computer projection system and precisely controlled micromirrors to shine light on a selected area of a solution containing photo-sensitive biopolymers and cells. This photo-induced solidification process forms one layer of solid structure at a time, but in a continuous fashion.




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