April 5 - The speedy creation of replica human body parts and organs seems far-fetched but a team of scientists in Austria have demonstrated the ease with which it could be done. Using advanced 3D printing methods, the researchers are creating nano-sized sculptures to demonstrate the technology's potential in bio-medical science. Joanne Nicholson reports.
hey're invisible to the naked eye but under a microscope, familiar images are being brought to life in three dimensions by scientists at Vienna's University of Technology. Using laser light and a liquid resin containing light-sensitive molecules, Jan Torgersen and his colleagues have adapted a printing machine for building structures as tiny as grains of sand. The laser is guided by a series of mirrors over the resin which hardens instantly. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SCIENTIST JAN TORGERSEN, MAIN DEVELOPER OF THE NEW 3D PRINTING TECHNIQUE, SAYING: 'We have developed a two-photon polymerisation machine. With this we can print out microscopic-scaled structures with a resolution of about 100 nanometers. What our novelty is that we can print actually up to five meters per second and this is much better than conventional setups because they can only print in the millimeter-per-second range." This is some of the 3D-printing process in real time. Due to the very fast guiding of the laser beam, 100 layers of around 200 single lines each, are produced in four minutes. It's been years in development but 3D printing is now an extremely sophisticated technology, according to Professor Juergen Stampfl. SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR JUERGEN STAMPFL, HEAD OF WORKING GROUP FOR FUNCTIONAL NON-METALS, SAYING: 'Nowadays we can make extremely small structures with excellent resolution, three-dimensional structures out of very challenging materials like the ones used in biomedical engineering and also in photonics. At the same time the machines are much more reliable now and much more easier to use compared to the beginning of these techniques." It's a concept, says Torgeson, that could be used for the creation of biomedical devices on an industrial scale. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SCIENTIST JAN TORGERSEN, MAIN DEVELOPER OF THE NEW 3D PRINTING TECHNIQUE, SAYING: "We are eagerly trying to develop low toxic resins which can be cured under the two-photone condition. And these structures can actually resemble biological tissue or biological surrounding very good, and we have a couple of publications currently under review which are dealing with this fact. So we structured these three-dimensional very accurate structures and we are hoping to get a publication and also to get biologists to work with us on this very fascinating technique." And the possibilities don't end there. The team are working with industry to further develop the practical applications of nano-printing as part of the European Commission's 'Factories for the Future' programme. Joanne Nicholson, Reuters