Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a 3D-printed device inspired by the liver to remove toxins from the blood.
The device, designed for use outside the body uses nanoparticles to trap pore-forming toxins that can damage cellular membranes and are a key factor in illnesses that result from animal bites and stings, and bacterial infections. Their findings were published May 8 in the journal Nature Communications.
Nanoparticles have already been shown to be effective at neutralising pore-forming toxins in the blood, but if those nanoparticles cannot be effectively digested, they can accumulate in the liver creating a risk of secondary poisoning, especially among patients who are already at risk of liver failure.
To solve this problem, a research team led by nanoengineering professor Shaochen Chen created a 3D-printed hydrogel matrix to house nanoparticles, forming a device that mimics the function of the liver by sensing, attracting and capturing toxins routed from the blood. The device also turns red when toxins are captured.
The device, currently at proof-of-concept stage, mimics the structure of the liver but has a larger surface area designed to attract and trap toxins within the device. In an in vitro study, the device is said top have completely neutralised pore-forming toxins.
‘The concept of using 3D printing to encapsulate functional nanoparticles in a biocompatible hydrogel is novel,’ Chen said in a statement. ‘This will inspire many new designs for detoxification techniques since 3D printing allows user-specific or site-specific manufacturing of highly functional products.’
Chen’s lab has already demonstrated the ability to print complex 3D microstructures, such as blood vessels, out of soft biocompatible hydrogels that contain living cells.
Chen’s biofabrication technology, called dynamic optical projection stereolithography (DOPsL), can produce the micro- and nanoscale resolution required to print tissues that mimic nature’s fine-grained details, including blood vessels, which are essential for distributing nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.