Watch: Scientists produce synthetic tissues with 3D printer

The droplet network printer: two droplet generators, each with a glass capillary nozzle, next to an oil well mounted on a motorised micromanipulator.
Oxford University/G Villar

The process of creating products with a 3D printer just got much more interesting. We've all heard about the coffee cups, toys and even medical advancements that have come from this new digital model, and even President Obama has touted the importance of 3D printing, calling it the future of manufacturing.

It now might also be the future of many other industries as well, since scientists at Oxford University in England have developed a way to create synthetic living tissue.

The hope is that this new technology will help to be a building block for delivering drugs to where they are needed in the body or replacing damaged human tissues. Using these synthetic cells will eliminate many problems associated with other tissue replacements as they are completely artificial so they do not replicate on their own, and do not need stem cells.

"We aren't trying to make materials that faithfully resemble tissues but rather structures that can carry out the functions of tissues," said Professor Hagan Bayley of Oxford University's Department of Chemistry in a statement. "We've shown that it is possible to create networks of tens of thousands connected droplets. The droplets can be printed with protein pores to form pathways through the network that mimic nerves and are able to transmit electrical signals from one side of a network to the other."

The researchers constructed a special type of printer that uses thousands of water droplets encapsulated within lipid films to create tissues that have the same properties as the living tissues in our bodies. This unique printer was produced by a University of Oxford student, Gabriel Villar, especially for creating synthetic tissues.