Researchers at Vanderbilt University have developed a technique to mimic complex systems of capillaries using cotton candy machines. The new technique is used in creating three-dimensional templates of the capillary system and is said to be a huge improvement over other methods.
Sugar wouldn’t work in creating the threads needed for the template—it was too soluable—so the researchers turned to a special polymer for the job. After spinning a system of polymer threads, the researchers pour a gelatin mixture that includes human cells over the polymer structure. Once the mixture cools, the polymer threads dissolve, leaving behind an elaborate network of tiny passages.
“Some people in the field think this approach is a little crazy,” researcher Leon Bellan told Vanderbilt’s research news site, “but now we’ve shown we can use this simple technique to make microfluidic networks that mimic the three-dimensional capillary system in the human body in a cell-friendly fashion.”