I just thought this was really cool:
A heated, computer-controlled nozzle glided smoothly back and forth, then up and down, depositing a thin trail of sugar in the shape of a delicate, miniature cage.
A scene from a high-tech pastry kitchen? A 21st-century reboot of Willy Wonka’s candy factory?
Far from it. The sugar cage was a first step toward manufacturing blood vessels for artificial organs, made with a custom-built 3-D “printer” in a bioengineering lab at the University of Pennsylvania.
Once they harden, these crisscrossing lines of sugar can be surrounded with a gel that contains cells from the desired type of organ – say, a liver. The sugar dissolves, leaving behind a cube of liver cells with a network of hollow channels, which can then be lined with other cells to create rudimentary blood vessels.
The resulting cubes of tissue are small, and the Penn researchers are many years away from making functional organs on the scale needed for human patients. But the team’s results, published this month in the journal Nature Materials, represent a promising advance in a field that is eager for alternatives to donated organs from cadavers.