Scientists trying to engineer tissue typically start with biodegradable solid or gel scaffolds and then seed living cells onto them. But having greater control over cell spreading and tissue growth would be a big plus for researchers.
A scaffold made of liquid compartments could provide that versatility. A method for fabricating such frameworks has been reported by a team led by Hagan Bayley of Oxford University (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1229495).
To create liquid scaffolds, the researchers custom-built a three-dimensional printer—a device that usually constructs solid objects layer by layer—to squirt tiny liquid droplets from its nozzles. When the machine prints lipid-coated water droplets onto a platform submerged in an oil bath, the 50-µm-diameter droplets adhere to one another. Oil-water repulsion partly drives the interaction.
“Instead of fusing to form a larger droplet, the tiny droplets ‘kiss’ and form a very thin bilayer interface” because of their lipid coatings, says former Oxford graduate student and the report’s lead author Gabriel Villar….