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Michigan Tech Researchers Use 3-D Printers To Create Synthetic Nerve Tissue

3D printer

In just one year, from 2012 to 2013, there were an estimated two million soft tissue fillers administered to patients in the United States. Most of these fillers were used for cosmetic reasons — to fill in scars and to help even skin tone.

But researchers from the Michigan Technological University have begun experimenting with tissue fillers in a new way that might just make it possible for patients with spinal injuries to regain their sense of touch — and it’s happening with a simple 3-D printer.

According to the university’s website, the team of researchers came together under the direction of Tolou Shokuhfar, as assistant professor at Michigan Tech and the director of the school’s In-Situ Nonmedicine and Nanoelectronics Laboratory. Under her guidance, the researchers have begun using 3-D printers to create synthesized nerve tissue, which will hopefully assist in nerve cell regeneration when a patient has a serious spinal cord injury.

Perhaps researchers have not been using 3-D printers in the medical industry for long, but it’s already clear that there’s a need for inexpensive, high-quality, and custom-designed prosthetics.

Already, developers and surgeons have created 3-D implants made of biomaterial, which can expand and change shape to fit the patient as he or she grows.

Shokuhfar’s team used the same starting point — biomaterial — but instead of using the printed devices as mere prosthetics that take the place of missing bones or muscles, they have aimed to create actual tissues with properties that encourage new cells to grow.

The synthetic tissue isn’t exactly “living,” and it’s created out of a syrupy polymer material that Shokuhfar’s team has to make in the lab. These cellulose nanocrystals are then printed out through a syringe attached to the printer, making thin layers of tissue.

The process is still in its earliest stages and, as 3dprint.com and Med City News have both noted, there are no regulations on the procedure just yet. It could be a decade — maybe even two — until the procedure is actually used on real patients, but it’s clear that Michigan Tech is already the leader in this revolutionary and life-changing technology.

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