Making organs

A new material might help make tissue for artificial organs

Published: Friday 31 December 1999

-- a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( mit ), usa , has reported a new material that could be used to make synthetic organs for transplants. This is great news for medical science as there are several times more people who need organs than those who donate. Some 20,000 people die in the us due to lack of an organ transplant. Synthetic materials tried in the past have not been very successful.

The problem with synthetic organs is that the material used to make them is nothing like the tissue of the human body -- it is impossible to copy the complexity of the blood vessels in a synthetic organ. Linda Griffith and her team at mit used a process, originally perfected for making military vehicles, to assemble a material that mimics the complexity of real tissue. The technique, called 3D printing, uses wafer-thin layers of a polymer. The polymer is rolled on to a plate by a roller. Small beads of glue are sprayed on the powder layer at the places where the next layer needs to stick. The process is repeated for the next layer. Finally, the layered structure is removed from the plate, whereupon the unwanted powder falls away.

The original technique was used with ceramic powders, but scientists have modified it for use with biodegradable polymers. A resolution of about 40 micrometres could be obtained with ceramic powders, the resolution is not so good with polymers. The team is currently refining the process, though use for human organs is still very much in the future.

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