3-D printing machine could be medical breakthrough

Local News

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS (WCIA) — UI researchers at the Beckman Institute are working with a machine which takes 3-D printing to a whole new dimension. 

Dr. Rohit Bhargava and his team say, one day it could help develop new treatment for cancer. 

“If we can actually replicate a tumor consistently, then we would have a good kind of model or standard system in order to test other technologies on,” said researcher Troy Comi.

It’s a new spin on 3-D printing.

“At one end of this machine is, you might consider is a toothpaste tube, and we’re applying a constant pressure, so we’re squeezing material out of the toothpaste tube, except now imagine your toothpaste tube is heated,” said Dr. Bhargava. 

It can create something about as small as you can imagine; objects only a fraction of the size of a single piece of hair. 

They start with a sugar, called isomalt. Then, they heat it into a form which looks like a pink tube. After that, they feed it into the machine, which then is programed to print very exact designs.

They take the isomalt form out, which leaves a space cells could grow in, and become an exact, living replica of body tissue.

“We’re trying to reproduce structures that we see in our body, and there are no rectangular cross-sections in our body is circular. Our blood vessels, all the ducts in our body. They’re all circular,” said Dr. Bhargava.

That’s why he says this truly 3-D approach to 3-D printing is crucial. Comi says bunnies and blocks are just the start of what this machine is capable of doing.

“Eventually, what we could do is take a CT or a CAT scan and utilize that to model the vascular system within a specific patient’s tumor, and then possibly test different drugs on that,” said Comi.

Dr. Bhargava says he had students from multiple different areas of study working on this project, so it was that collaborative work, plus funding from the Beckman Institute, which made this possible. 

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