Frontiers in 3-D Printing: Frankenfruit and Blood Vessels

bioprinting3-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.

frankenfruit1According 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.

frankenfruit2And 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.

3d_bloodvesselsThe 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.

bioprinting1They 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.

 Sources: gizmag.com, 3dprint.com, phys.org

Warning Signs from the Future

future-signs-02From bioenhancements becoming the norm, to people constantly wired into augmented reality; from synthetic organs to synthetic meat; driverless taxis to holograms and robot helpers – the future is likely to be an interesting-looking place. That’s the subject in a new Tumblr called Signs from the Near Future, where designer Fernando Barbella explores what signage will look like when we have to absorb all of these innovations into human culture.

Taking its cue from what eager startups and scientists predict, Barbella’s collection of photos looks a few decades into the future where dramatic, sci-fi inspired innovations have become everyday things. These include things like drones becoming a regular thing, driverless taxis (aka. robotaxis) and synthetic meat becoming available, high-tech classrooms servicing the post-humans amongst us, and enhancements and implants becoming so common they need to be regulated and monitored.

future-signs-01Barbella says that the project was inspired by articles he’s read on topics like nanomedicine, autonomous cars, and 3-D food printing, as well as classic books (Neuromancer, Fahrenheit 51), movies (Blade Runner, Gattaca), music (Rage Against The Machine), and TV shows (Fringe, Black Mirror). The designer chose to focus on signs because he figures that we’ll need a little guidance to speed up our learning curves with new technology. As he put it during an interview via email:

New materials, mashups between living organisms and nanotechnologies, improved capabilities for formerly ‘dumb’ and inanimate things . . . There’s lots of awesome things going on around us! And the fact is all these things are going to cease being just ‘projects’ to became part of our reality at any time soon. On the other hand, I chose to express these thing by signs deployed in ordinary places, featuring instructions and warnings because I feel that as we increasingly depend on technology, we will probably have less space for individual judgment to make decisions.

future-signs-07Some of the signs – including one thanking drivers for choosing to ride on a solar panel highway – can be traced back to specific news articles or announcements. The solar highway sign was inspired by a solar roadways crowdfunding campaign, which has so far raised over $2 million to build solar road panels. However, rather than focus on the buzz and how cool and modern such a development would be, Barbella chose to focus on what such a thing would look like.

At the same time, he wanted the pictures to serve as a sort of cautionary tale about the ups and down of the future. As he put it:

I feel that as we increasingly depend on technology, we will probably have less space for individual judgment to make decisions. …I’ve sticked to a more ‘mundane’ point of view, imagining that the people or authorities of any given county would be probably quite grateful for having the chance of transforming all that traffic into energy.

future-signs-03He says he wants his signs to not just depict that momentum and progress, but to reflect the potentially disturbing aspects of those advances as well. Beyond that, Barbella sees an interesting dynamic in the public’s push and pull against what new technology allows us to do. Though the technology grants people access to information and other cultures, it also poses issues of privacy and ethics that hold that back. As a result, privacy concerns are thus featured in the collection in a number of ways.

This includes warning people about “oversharing” via social media, how images snapped using contact display lenses will be shared in real-time with authorities, or how certain neighorhoods are drone patrolled. His images offer a look at why those issues are certain to keep coming — and at the same time, why many will ultimately fall aside. Barbella also stated that has more future signs in the queue, but he says that he’ll stop the moment they start to feel forced.

future-signs-05You have to admit, it does capture the sense of awe and wonder – not to mention fear and anxiety – of what our likely future promises. And as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousands words”. In this case, those words present a future that has one foot in the fantastical and another in the fearful, but in such a way that it seems entirely frank and straighforward. But that does seem to be the way the future works, doesn’t it? Somehow, it doesn’t seem like science fiction once it becomes a regular part of “mundane” reality.

To see more of his photos, head on over to his Tumblr account.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, theverge.com

The Future is Here: Liver-Cells Made With 3D Printer

bioprinterOngoing developments in 3D printing have allowed for some amazing breakthroughs in recent years. From its humble beginnings, manufacturing everything from 3D models and drugs to jewelry, the technology is rapidly expanding into the realm of the biological. This began with efforts to create printed cartilage and skin, but quickly expanded into using stem cells to create specific types of living tissues. And as it happens, some of those efforts are bearing some serious fruit!

One such example comes to us from California, where the San Diego-based firm Organova announced that they were able to create samples of liver cells using 3D printing technology. The firm presented their findings at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston this past April. In a press release, the company said the following:

We have demonstrated the power of bioprinting to create functional human tissue that replicates human biology better than what has come before.

3dstemcellsThe company’s researchers used a gel and “bioink” to build three types of liver cells and arranged them into the same kind of three-dimensional cell architecture found in a human liver. Although not fully functional, the 3D cells were able to produce some of the same proteins as an actual liver does and interacted with each other and with compounds introduced into the tissue as they would in the body.

This latest breakthrough places Organovo, indeed all biomedical research firms, that much closer to the dream of being able to synthesize human organs and other complex organic tissues. And they are hardly alone in narrowing the gap, as doctor’s at the University of Michigan made a similar advancement last year when they used a 3D printer to build a synthetic trachea for a child with a birth defect that had collapsed her airway.

bioprinted heartAs scientists get more familiar with the technology and the process of building shaped, organic cells that are capable of doing the same job as their natural counterparts, we are likely to be seeing more and more examples of synthetic organic tissue. In addition, its likely to be just a few more years before fully-functional synthetic organs are available for purchase. This will be a boon for both those looking for a transplant, as well as a medical system that is currently plagued by shortages and waiting lists.

And be sure to check out this CBC video of Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo, explaining the process of bioprinting:


Sources:
cbc.ca, wired.com