Living tissue from the 3-D printer
A team of students from LMU and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) took the laurels at the international Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) in Boston – for developing a method for 3-D printing of living tissue.
The Munich iGEM Project was prompted by the ongoing scarcity of donor organs for transplantation into patients who urgently need them. Non-living biological material – such as the non-cellular matrix of secreted proteins that makes up cartilage – can already be molded by 3-D printers. Printing of organized tissue aggregates, on the other hand, still faces daunting hurdles. “This was our point of departure,” says Professor Arne Skerra of the TUM, who led the project. The students involved essentially reconfigured a conventional 3D printer that normally molds plastics to serve as a 3-D bioprinter. “The crucial feature of the bioprinting procedure developed by our students is that specially designed surface proteins on the cells interact with each other in accordance with the lock-and-key principle,” as LMU microbiologist Professor Kirsten Jung who supported the team, explains. This allows that tissues to be built up layer by layer, just as the printer would normally stack molded and polymerized plastics on top of one another.
The iGEM competition is an international initiative to stimulate innovation in the burgeoning field of synthetic biology. This year marks the first time that students from LMU and the TU came together to form an interdisciplinary team made up of molecular biologists, biotechnologists and engineers. The stimulus for the joint project came from the Graduate School in Molecular Principles of Synthetic Biology, which is coordinated by Kirsten Jung. In addition to taking first prize overall, the team came out on top in several subcategories, winning the awards for the best software and the best hardware, for example. Over 300 teams took part in this year’s competition – a dozen of them from Germany.