Scientists at Michigan Technological University have developed a 3D bio-printer to make synthesized nerve tissue.
The bio-printer looks like a toaster oven with the front and sides removed. Its metal frame is built up around a stainless steel circle lit by an ultraviolet light. Stainless steel hydraulics and thin black tubes line the back edge, which lead to an inner, topside box made of red plastic. Overall, the gray metal frame is small enough to fit on top of an old-fashioned school desk.
The key is generating the right "bioink" or printable tissue. Tolou Shokuhfar, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering at the University, says the nanotechnology-inspired material could help regenerate damaged nerves for patients with spinal cord injuries.
Shokuhfar says that nerve regeneration is a particularly difficult biomedical engineering conundrum. "We are born with all the nerve cells we'll ever have, and damaged nerves don't heal very well."
Other facilities, who are also trying to address this issue, feature large, room-sized machines that have built-in cell culture hoods, incubators and refrigeration. The precision of this equipment allows them to print full organs, but innovation is more nimble at smaller scales.