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3D-printed liver-like device can detoxify blood


May 14, 2014

The 3D printed liver mimicking device completely neutralizes toxins in the blood (Image: UC San Diego)

The 3D printed liver mimicking device completely neutralizes toxins in the blood (Image: UC San Diego)

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What if you could 3D print small devices that mimicked some of the functions of human organs, to address specific issues? That's what scientists at the University of California, San Diego have done by 3D-printing a liver-like device that's claimed capable of safely detoxifying blood.

Designed to be used outside the body, the device can sense, attract and neutralize toxins within the bloodstream. Nanoengineering Professor Shaochen Chen whose earlier work includes 3D printed blood vessels, created the liver-inspired device to capture pore-forming toxins capable of damaging cell membranes.

Though scientists have successfully used nanoparticles to neutralize toxins in blood, patients who use this treatment, run the risk of secondary poisoning if they are unable to effectively digest the nanoparticles and have them accumulate in the liver instead.

Chen 3D-printed a hydrogel matrix, encasing the nanoparticles to create a device capable of attracting and capturing toxins within itself. Equipped with a surface area that's larger than that of a human liver, the research team reported that the device completely neutralized toxins routed from the blood in an in vitro study.

"The concept of using 3D printing to encapsulate functional nanoparticles in a biocompatible hydrogel is novel," says Chen. "This will inspire many new designs for detoxification techniques since 3D printing allows user-specific or site-specific manufacturing of highly functional products."

The device also changes color when it captures the toxins, turning red in the process. Chen is currently developing a special biofabrication technology called dynamic optical projection stereolithography (DOPsL) to 3D print the liver-mimicking microstructure.

The research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: UC San Diego

About the Author
Lakshmi Sandhana When Lakshmi first encountered pig's wings in a petri dish, she realized that writing about scientists and imagineers was the perfect way to live in an expanding mind bubble. Articles for Wired, BBC Online, New Scientist, The Economist and Fast Company soon followed. She's currently pursuing her dream of traveling from country to country to not only ferret out cool stories but also indulge outrageously in local street foods. When not working, you'll find her either buried nose deep in a fantasy novel or trying her hand at improvisational comedy. All articles by Lakshmi Sandhana

As someone with hemochromatosis this is of extreme interest to me.


For a synthetic liver to detoxify blood would be a major medical advance. However, a healthy liver does far more than that and this 3D printed organ could never be a substitute for someone's liver. The healthy liver performs other functions including the metabolism of blood cells, plasma proteins, digestive fluids, glycogen storage and many others. When the liver is damaged, its cells have an amazing capacity to regenerate themselves. The problem is that the regenerated cells don't assemble themselves in a manner that matches the complex architecture of a healthy liver. That's why liver cirrhosis can be fatal because that architecture is lost with the damage caused by alcohol or viral infection and cannot be recreated. Here's another way 3D printing might provide a solution wherein a 3D matrix is printed for healthy new cells to grow onto.

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