Printing a chocolate heart is easy enough, but how about an actual organ? There are folks working on it, but it turns out those veins of yours aren't exactly a breeze to replicate. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and MIT may have found a semi-sweet solution -- dissolving a sugar lattice in a batch of living Jell-O. The research team uses a RepRap 3D printer and a custom extruder head to print a filament network composed of sucrose, glucose and dextran which is later encased in a bio-gel containing living cells. Once the confectionery paths are dissolved, they leave a network of artery-like channels in their void. Tissue living in the gel can then receive oxygen and nutrients through the hollow pipes.
The research has been promising so far, and has increased the number of functional liver cells the team has been able to maintain in artificial tissues. These results suggest the technique could have future research possibilities in developing lab-grown organs. MIT Professor Sangeeta Bhatia, who helped conduct the effort, hopes to push the group's work further. "More work will be needed to learn how to directly connect these types of vascular networks to natural blood vessels while at the same time investigating fundamental interactions between the liver cells and the patterned vasculature. It's an exciting future ahead." Scientists at other labs could also get their mitts on the sweet templates since they're stable enough to endure shipping. Head past the break for a video of the innard infrastructure.