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Designer tissues: synthetic, living and hybrid materials

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By 3D printing, we have assembled synthetic tissues comprising patterned networks of thousands of aqueous droplets joined by lipid bilayers. The droplets communicate with each other and with the environment through engineered protein pores. To mimic tissues, the synthetic networks should be endowed with various properties including the ability to store and use energy, to move and change shape, to detect signals, to carry out computations and take up and release molecules. To a modest degree, these goals have been achieved. A related printing technology has been used to pattern a variety of living cells, providing structures that include small tumours and fragments of neural tissue. The mm-scale printed structures can be used as building blocks for cm-scale structures ranging from synthetic axons to hybrid constructs containing both synthetic and living cells. An important goal is to communicate with these constructs by using external stimuli, have them process the incoming signals and accordingly produce useful outputs for applications in medicine.

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