Hold It Together: The Delicate Work Of 3-D Printing Soft Tissue

Researchers need something to support soft, fragile 3-D printer creations, like blood vessels and silicone pumps.

Hold It Together: The Delicate Work Of 3-D Printing Soft Tissue
O'Bryan et al. / Science Advances

3-D printing has all sorts of promising medical applications — from tools and prostheses to entire organs. Doctors would love to dial up a replacement kidney for anyone who needs one.

And researchers at places like Harvard University and Cornell University are experimenting with printing human tissues and organs.

But without scaffolding or patterns to follow, holding something soft together can be challenging: blood vessels, for example.

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So researchers are experimenting with support gels that hold fragile structures up while they're printed. They just figured out which chemicals to use to support silicone printing, which could lead to a range of useful soft parts, like fluid pumps or tracheal implants.

And live replacement tissue might not be far behind, after all. Carnegie Mellon University is already using a similar technique to print heart arteries.