Building up organs, blow by blow

When I was young, medicine was a matter of asprin and a hot water bottle. Now our lives may one day depend on aerodynamically assisted bio-jetting.

When I was young, medicine was a matter of asprin and a hot water bottle. Now our lives may one day depend on aerodynamically assisted bio-jetting.

It turns out that biologists have been spraying liquid tissue culture around the place through ink-jet printers since the turn of the century, with the idea that they can build up something complex and useful that can be stuffed inside the poorly.

By now, four techniques exist for squirting three dimensional living organs through the old Lexmark: layered printing, laser directed cell writing, bio-electrospraying and cell electrospinning. That's particularly fine - you draw a thread of gunk out as it shoots from the nozzle, thus helping to create three dimensional structures.

But all four methods have a fatal weakness (apart from creating giant ravening monster squid that have already gobbled up three researchers, plus one rather startled cleaner who lent her broom on the printer switch one morning by mistake): electricity. They all involve putting the living cells within close proximity of high intensity electrical fields, which messes up their delicate electro-potentially modulated mechanisms.

So now the researchers at UCL have replaced the electric field with a very precisely defined micro stream of air, that pushes things in the right way without relying on electrostatic forces. This means that computer generated three-dimensional organs are even closer than before: exactly how close, no-one durst say.

(I lied about the squid)

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