Rise Of Bioprinting: Scientists Use 3D Printing To Produce Living Cells

The rise of 3D printing provided the manufacturing with a faster and efficient way to produce products. The scientific community saw those benefits and wants to utilize the printing method in various experiments, from developing artificial food to growing human organs. 

Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria recently used a high-resolution 3D printing process with a printing speed of one meter per second to produce living cells. The technology uses a special "bio ink" that allows the team to embed cells in a 3D matrix. 

Researchers said they want to address the two main challenges facing 3D bioprinting. Previous versions of the technology appeared “very imprecise” with high risk of cell damage and relied on very limited cell-friendly materials. 

“The behavior of a cell behaves depends crucially on the mechanical, chemical and geometric properties of its environment,” Aleksandr Ovsianikov, head of 3D Printing and Biofabrication research group at the university, said in a statement. “The structures in which the cells are embedded must be permeable to nutrients so that the cells can survive and multiply.”

To print in high resolution, the researchers used the new two-photon polymerization method. This enabled them to produce extremely fine structures with high precision using high-powered laser beam. 

Using two photons of the laser beam, the molecule simultaneously absorbs heat, which allows the target area of the material to harden while other parts remain liquid. Researchers said the 3D printing method can process materials at a speed of more than one meter per second, increasing the chances of cells surviving and developing further.

“Our method provides many possibilities to adapt the environment of the cells,” Ovsianikov pointed out. “Using these 3D scaffolds, it is possible to investigate the behavior of cells with previously unattainable accuracy.”

The researchers hope the living cells produced by their 3D printing method could help study the spread of diseases, the use of stem cells and the production of tailor-made tissue for treatments. With the technology, the team said fine, continuous gradients are possible and materials can be easily modified for the desired kind of cell growth. 

3D Printined Cell Cells spreading in a 3D scaffold -- from left to right: week 1, week 3 week 5. Top: 3D setup, bottom: one layer only. Vienna University of Technology