A pair of sound-sensitive tweezers have paved the way for 3D bioprinting.
Acoustic tweezers are an ideal instrument for handling single cells in a benign manner. The cells may be manipulated in three dimensions and so the promise this methodology holds for 3D bioprinting is great indeed.
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Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh and other researchers from Tony Jun Huang from the Pennsylvania State University and Ming Dao from MIT have done this study on acoustic tweezers. Their findings are published in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"In this application we use surface acoustic waves to create nodes where cells or microparticles are trapped," said Tony Jun Huang, professor and The Huck Distinguished Chair in Bioengineering Science and Mechanics.
"We can then move the cell or particle in three dimensions to create structures in two or three dimensions."
The cellular machinary within living bodies is very complex as well as fragile. Thus the creation and re-creation of these structures is an infinitely difficult job.
Take the human heart. It contains some 2 billion muscle cells. Each one of these is linked up with the next one and they all act in unison so that the heart may beat properly.
If there is a misalignment or damage somewhere among the cardiac cells, the heart will not perform well and may even be susceptible to disease. 3D bioprinting is a novel method of ensuring that the architecture of biological tissues gets recreated in an artificial environment.
While scientists have experimented here and there, they have yet to come up with a technique that is close to perfect. The level of precision and integration needed is too high for ordinary human beings to undertake the task of 3D bioprinting.
"The results presented in this paper provide a unique pathway to manipulate biological cells, accurately and in three dimensions, without the need for any invasive contact, tagging, or biochemical labeling," said Subra Suresh, president, Carnegie Mellon University and part of the research team.
"This approach could lead to new possibilities for research and applications in such areas as regenerative medicine, neuroscience, tissue engineering, biomanufacturing, and cancer metastasis."
The manipulation of single cells in 3D can be done with an instrument though. That is where regenerative medicine, neuroscience, tissue engineering, bio-manfacture and cancer research enter the equation.
Acoustic tweezers are the new instrument that will help in this regard. Sound waves are used to handle the single cells. The process is gentle and non-invasive.
The latest version of the tweezers involves a microfluidic contraption that uses acoustic wave generators to give off sounds. The sound waves meet along all three axes. Thus they capture the cells along these axes. Then they could be manipulated as the researchers please.
"3-D acoustic tweezers can pattern cells with control over the number of cells, cell spacing and the confined geometry, which may offer a unique way to print neuron cells to create artificial neural networks for neuron science applications or regenerative neuron medicine," said Huang.
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The cells were selected one by one and set in their patterns. This methodology lends us a valuable tool in our arsenal. Therefore, 3D structures at the cellular level could be recreated with ease and acumen.