At OxSyBio, we are developing 3D printing techniques to produce a range of tissue-like and functional tissues for medical research and clinical applications. The technology is based on cutting-edge research conducted by Professor Hagan Bayley’s group in the Chemistry Department at the University of Oxford, with the company holding a licence to the associated intellectual property.
Professor Bayley’s group have previously demonstrated the ability to print three-dimensional networks comprising tens of thousands of picoliter aqueous droplets forming a cohesive material. These networks can be built in software-controlled geometries using a number of different droplet types, thus enabling them to perform simple cell-like functions and act as ‘tissue-like’ materials. Initial work showed that printed networks were capable of conducting electrical signals along neuron-like pathways by the selective incorporation of membrane proteins, or to fold in a pre-defined manner to assume altered shapes after printing.
This work was published in Science in April 2013 and featured on the cover. It has also been featured in Nature Materials and a range of other media globally including the BBC and National Geographic.
OxSyBio is refining and advancing this technology to print more complex networks more rapidly and at a higher resolution. We are also adapting the approach to print living cells inside droplets, which will enable the direct printing of 3D cell networks with many of the characteristics of living tissues.
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Our long-term vision is to produce tissues and tissue patches that can be used by surgeons in a clinical setting. Significant advances in engineering and biology are required before this vision becomes reality, but along the way OxSyBio’s 3D droplet printing technology will deliver benefits in a range of applications from the printing of human tissue models for research and ultimately the clinic, to the development of novel research tools in synthetic biology.
There is an increasing appreciation that there are significant differences in behaviour between cells growing in 2D and in 3D culture, and that this can have implications for the efficacy and toxicity testing of therapeutic candidates. 3D printed tissues can offer the advantage of replicating the architectural features associated with native tissue, without the requirement for artificial scaffolds.
In synthetic biology considerable effort has been put into the preparation of artificial cells, and by contrast relatively little work has been reported on assemblies of interacting protocells such as those that can be printed by OxSyBio.
We believe that in the future, printed tissues will be a standard tool for surgeons and clinicians in the treatment of patients with diseased or damaged soft tissue and organs. It remains to be seen what form this will take, but it is likely that in the first instance it will take the form of tissue patches or grafts that might be used to replace, for example, infarcted cardiac or nephric tissue. In the longer term, larger patches or whole organs are possible.
Significant advances are required before we can demonstrate that this is possible and gain regulatory approval for use of tissues printed using our approach in the clinic, but this is the goal that we are working towards.
Thank you to Oxford University/G Villar for use of images/videos