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3D-printed organ research enhanced with programmable DNA “smart glue”

Reporter: Irina Robu, PhD
A new breakthrough using DNA to provide the “glue” in a 3D printing material   was created by Dr. Andrew D. Ellington at University of Texas, which can be used to 3D print tissues to repair injuries or even create organs. Since DNA provides the source code for life, the researchers at University of Texas coated plastic microparticles with  40 base pairs of DNA, forming gel-like materials that they could extrude from a 3D printer* to form solid shapes (up to centimeters in size). These were used as scaffolds to host growing cells within the matrix.
The researchers designed DNA sequences which are complementary to one another and which are subsequently fragmented and attached to micro-beads and then anneal to one another and stiffen into a gel-like colloidal structure. The DNA-coated beads could carry and physically orient molecules that do more than simple annealing. The beads can also be coated with an increasing density of a growth factor leading a cell type to grow along the concentration gradient. 
In theory, this could lead to a future in which your outgoing organ is scanned and then its used to  design the large-scale structures of the printing scaffold. The small-scale structure of the tissues will be roughly the same for all livers, and the combination of beads necessary to create it sits ready in the laboratory freezer. Feed the scan and the right beads to the printer, along with samples of liver cells to be deposited in the gel as it is laid down. Print. Wait. Surgery.In addition to the benefits, there are also potential problems since DNA is fragile and the DNA interactions might not last enough for the organ to mature or the slow forming chemical bonds could lock a configuration in place once the DNA had figured it out transiently.As researchers customize XNAs to better offset DNA’s less helpful attributes, the potential will continue to grow.
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