Newborn Oxford University spin-out OxSyBio has secured funds to develop a 3D printer capable of printing synthetic tissues for wound healing and drug delivery and, in the longer term, organ repair or replacement.

The company has raised £1 million from venture capital and support copmany IP Group (subject to milestone achievements) to advance a 3D droplet printing technology devised by Professor Hagan Bayley’s group at Oxford University’s Department of Chemistry.

The technique involves printing synthetic tissue-like materials from thousands of tiny water droplets each coated in a thin film mimicking a living cell’s external membrane, and studding these membranes with protein pores so they act like simplified cells.

Electrical impulses can be transmitted through these networks of droplets in a manner similar to the way cells in the nervous system communicate - i.e. the signal moves rapidly and in a specific direction.

"We also aim to integrate printed tissue-like materials with living tissues, and to print materials that themselves contain living cells," said Prof Bayley.

 “Our long-term goal is to develop a synthetic-tissue printer that a surgeon can use in the operating theatre," he added, noting that "in ten years’ time, the use of pieces of synthetic tissue will be commonplace. The fabrication of complex synthetic organs is a more distant prospect".

Science fiction becomes science fact

"This is the type of technology where science fiction can become science fact," commented Tom Hockaday, Managing Director of Isis Innovation, Oxford University's research and technology commercialisation company.

The field of regenerative medicine is advancing at an impressive rate and, ethical issues aside, many believe it could totally revolutionise healthcare across the globe in the not too distant future.

San Diego-based group Organovo is now gearing up to sell its bioprinted 3D liver tissue to pharmaceutical groups for research purposes later this year, while scientists at the Harvard have printed multiple types of cells and blood vessels, a combination necessary to create more complex tissue, Hangzhou Dianzi University in China has printed a small working kidney, and Princeton University has printed an ear.