Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a novel technology that can fabricate, in mere seconds, microscale three dimensional (3D) structures out of soft, biocompatible hydrogels. Near term, the technology could lead to better systems for growing and studying cells, including stem cells, in the laboratory. Long-term, the goal is to be able to print biological tissues for regenerative medicine.
For example, in the future, doctors may repair the damage caused by heart attack by replacing it with tissue that rolled off of a printer.
The biofabrication technology, called dynamic optical projection stereolithography (DOPsL), was developed in the laboratory of NanoEngineering Professor Shaochen Chen. Current fabrication techniques, such as photolithography and micro-contact printing, are limited to generating simple geometries or 2D patterns, while stereolithography can print large objects such as tools and car parts.
The new biofabrication technique uses a computer projection system and precisely controlled micromirrors to shine light on a selected area of a solution containing photo-sensitive biopolymers and cells. This photo-induced solidification process forms one layer of solid structure at a time, but in a continuous fashion.