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Oxford University researchers create new 3D printed 'soft material' that could replace human tissue

Joseph Volpe, @jrvolpe
April 5, 2013
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Water and fat -- those are the two primary building blocks Oxford University researchers have used to 3D print the droplet you see above. Sounds unremarkable until you consider its intended application as a human tissue replacement. By stringing together thousands of these so-called droplets (which measure about 50 microns across) using a custom-built 3D printer, the Oxford team believes it has engineered a "new type of material" that could eventually be used to ferry drugs throughout our internal systems to a specific target site, fill-in for damaged tissues or even mimic neural pathways via specially printed protein pores. The potential applications for medical science are impressive enough, but consider this additional benefit: since the droplets contain no genetic material, scientists can completely sidestep all the ethical red tape surrounding the alternative stem cell approach to artificial tissue. At present, the team's been able to string about 35,000 of the droplets together, but there's no real cap as to how large or even what type of networks can be made. If the money and equipment are willing, this Oxford team can make scifi dreams come true.

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