The field of 3D printing is growing rapidly and in some respects it is achieving things that just wouldn’t have been possible a number of years ago. Nanoengineers at the University of California in San Diego, US have recently developed a 3D-printed device that closely resembles the human liver. It is designed to remove dangerous toxins from the blood The device is currently in the proof-of-concept stage.
The device, is designed to be used outside the body, like a dialysis system, uses Nanoparticles to trap pore-forming toxins, which can damage cellular membranes and are a key factor in sickness that can result from animal bites, stings and bacterial infections. The Nanoengineers findings were recently published in the journal Nature Communications on May 8.
Nanoparticles are effective at neutralizing pore-forming toxins in the blood, however if the Nanoparticles cannot be effectively digested, then they could accumulate in the liver, creating a risk of further poisoning. To solve this issue, a research team, led by nanoengineering professor Shaochen Chen, made a 3D-printed hydrogel matrix to accommodate Nanoparticles. They formed a device, which mimics the function of the liver. The liver is an organ which senses, attracts and then capturing toxins found in the blood.
The co-first author, Xin Qu, who is a postdoctoral researcher working in Chen’s laboratory said, “One unique feature of this device is that it turns red when the toxins are captured.”
Chen said, “The concept of using 3D printing to encapsulate functional Nanoparticles in a biocompatible hydrogel is novel…This will inspire many new designs for detoxification techniques since 3D printing allows user-specific or site-specific manufacturing of highly functional products.”
The biofabrication technology, called dynamic optical projection stereolithography (DOPsL), can produce both the micro and nanoscale resolution required to print tissues, which mimic fine details, including blood vessels, which are essential for distributing nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.
This new system is part of the biofabrication technology that Chen is developing from a $1.5 million grant given from the National Institutes of Health, over a four year period. The project is also partly supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.