Micromasonry 'Biological Legos' Building New Organs

One of the problems with building your own organs from scratch is getting the 3-dimensional structure right. MIT-Harvard researchers are working on biological legos to grow a 3D organ.

The new technique, called micromasonry, involves tiny blobs of a gel-like material. Each tiny blob contains individual cells; the blobs stick together in a desired structure.


( half sphere of polymer cubes built by MIT-Harvard researchers )

A variety of techniques have been evolved for printing two-dimensional strips of organic matter (see Hungry? Print Yourself Some Bacon and Cultured Meat Straight From The Vat for two approaches).

"That works, but it often lacks a controlled microarchitecture," says Ali Khademhosseini, assistant professor at the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), is also an assistant professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "You don't get tissues with the same complexity as normal tissues."

Gomez Fernandez and Khademhosseini have used their technique to build tiny tubes that could function as capillaries, which could provide an engineered organ with its blood supply.

The HST researchers built their "biological Legos" by encapsulating cells within a polymer called polyethylene glycol (PEG), which has many medical uses. Their version of the polymer is a liquid that becomes a gel when illuminated, so when the PEG-coated cells are exposed to light, the polymer hardens and encases the cells in cubes with side lengths ranging from 100 to 500 millionths of a meter.

Once the cells are in cube form, they can be arranged in specific shapes using templates made of PDMS, a silicon-based polymer used in many medical devices. Both template and cell cubes are coated again with the PEG polymer, which acts as a glue that holds the cubes together as they pack themselves tightly onto the scaffold surface.

After the cubes are arranged properly, they are illuminated again, and the liquid holding the cubes together solidifies. When the template is removed, the cubes hold their new structure.

SF fans have waited a long time for artificially grown organs; Larry Niven wrote about the idea in his 1968 novel A Gift From Earth.

From Science Daily.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/16/2010)

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