3-D printing is pushing the boundaries of manufacturing all the time, expanding its repertoire to include more and more in the way of manufactured products and even organic materials. Amongst the many possibilities this offers, arguably the most impressive are those that fall into the categories of synthetic food and replacement organs. In this vein, two major breakthroughs took place last month, with the first-time unveiling of both 3-D printed hybrid fruit and blood vessels.
The first comes from a Dovetailed, UK-based design company which presented its 3-D food printer on Saturday, May 24th, at the Tech Food Hack event in Cambridge. Although details on how it works are still a bit sparse, it is said to utilize a technique known as “spherification” – a molecular gastronomy technique in which liquids are shaped into tiny spheres – and then combined with spheres of different flavors into a fruit shape.
According to a report on 3DPrint, the process likely involves combining fruit puree or juice with sodium alginate and then dripping the mixture into a bowl of cold calcium chloride. This causes the droplets to form into tiny caviar-like spheres, which could subsequently be mixed with spheres derived from other fruits. The blended spheres could then be pressed, extruded or otherwise formed into fruit-like shapes for consumption.
The designers claim that the machine is capable of 3D-printing existing types of fruit such as apples or pears, or user-invented combined fruits, within seconds. They add that the taste, texture, size and shape of those fruits can all be customized. As Vaiva Kalnikaitė, creative director and founder of Dovetailed, explained:
Our 3D fruit printer will open up new possibilities not only to professional chefs but also to our home kitchens – allowing us to enhance and expand our dining experiences… We have been thinking of making this for a while. It’s such an exciting time for us as an innovation lab. Our 3D fruit printer will open up new possibilities not only to professional chefs but also to our home kitchens, allowing us to enhance and expand our dining experiences. We have re-invented the concept of fresh fruit on demand.
And though the idea of 3-D printed fruit might seem unnerving to some (the name “Frankenfruit” is certainly predicative of that), it is an elegant solution of what to do in an age where fresh fruit and produce are likely to become increasingly rare for many. With the effects of Climate Change (which included increased rates of drought and crop failure) expected to intensify in the coming decades, millions of people around the world will have to look elsewhere to satisfy their nutritional needs.
As we rethink the very nature of food, solutions that can provide us sustenance and make it look the real thing are likely to be the ones that get adopted. A video of the printing in action is show below:
Meanwhile, in the field of bioprinting, researchers have experienced another breakthrough that may revolution the field of medicine. When it comes to replacing vital parts of a person’s anatomy, finding replacement blood vessels and arteries can be just as daunting as finding sources of replacement organs, limbs, skin, or any other biological material. And thanks to the recent efforts of a team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, MA, it may now be possible to fabricate these using a bioprinting technique.
The study was published online late last month in Lab on a Chip. The study’s senior author, Ali Khademhosseini – PhD, biomedical engineer, and director of the BWH Biomaterials Innovation Research Center – explained the challenge and their goal as follows:
Engineers have made incredible strides in making complex artificial tissues such as those of the heart, liver and lungs. However, creating artificial blood vessels remains a critical challenge in tissue engineering. We’ve attempted to address this challenge by offering a unique strategy for vascularization of hydrogel constructs that combine advances in 3D bioprinting technology and biomaterials.
The researchers first used a 3D bioprinter to make an agarose (naturally derived sugar-based molecule) fiber template to serve as the mold for the blood vessels. They then covered the mold with a gelatin-like substance called hydrogel, forming a cast over the mold which was then reinforced via photocrosslinks. Khademhosseini and his team were able to construct microchannel networks exhibiting various architectural features – in other words, complex channels with interior layouts similar to organic blood vessels.
They were also able to successfully embed these functional and perfusable microchannels inside a wide range of commonly used hydrogels, such as methacrylated gelatin or polyethylene glycol-based hydrogels. In the former case, the cell-laden gelatin was used to show how their fabricated vascular networks functioned to improve mass transport, cellular viability and cellular differentiation. Moreover, successful formation of endothelial monolayers within the fabricated channels was achieved.
According to Khademhosseini, this development is right up there with the possibility of individually-tailored replacement organs or skin:
In the future, 3D printing technology may be used to develop transplantable tissues customized to each patient’s needs or be used outside the body to develop drugs that are safe and effective.
Taken as a whole, the strides being made in all fields of additive manufacturing – from printed metal products, robotic parts, and housing, to synthetic foods and biomaterials – all add up to a future where just about anything can be manufactured, and in a way that is remarkably more efficient and advanced than current methods allow.