Research from Clemson University shows that producing cardiac tissue with off-the-shelf inkjet technology can be improved significantly with precise cell placement. Tom Boland, associate professor in Clemson's bioengineering department, along with Catalin Baicu of the Medical University of South Carolina, present their findings today (2-18) at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference in San Francisco.
Since Boland's discovery in 2004, "printing" tissue using 3-D printers has focused on printing materials for hard tissue applications, such as in the jawbone. The study presented at AAAS focused on precise placement of cells, which is essential to achieving function in soft tissue, such as the heart. In this study, live, beating heart cells were achieved more efficiently.
"The breakthrough with this technology is that cells now can be precision-placed virtually instantaneously with the materials that make up a scaffold to hold the cells in place," Boland said. Precision placement of the cells is achieved by filling an empty inkjet cartridge with a hydrogel solution (a material that has properties similar to tissue) and another inkjet cartridge with cells. The printing is accomplished much in the way that color photographs are made, activating alternatively the hydrogel and cell nozzles.
Previously cells were added to prefabricated scaffolds in a lengthy, less efficient process. In addition to Boland and Baicu, scientists Xiaofeng Cui of Clemson, Michael Aho and Michael Zile, both of MUSC, contributed to the research, which was funded with a NASA EPSCoR Grant.
Boland's research was recently featured on Discovery Channel's program "2057," detailing what life will be like 50 years from now.
Editor's Note: A digital photograph of precision-placed heart cells using inkjet technology is available online. To download the photograph, go to http://clemsonews.