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3D Printing of Organs and Tissues

3D Printing of Organs and Tissues
By Fanny Bates

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3d printer

3D printing has made a huge breakthrough over the past several years. It started as a tool producing small objects, even entire houses, but one promising approach is currently leading in the world of invention, namely 3D bioprinting. What originated in the early 2000s can now be used to build organs and tissues from scratch. Even though it is in the experimental phase, it has already been sold for drug testing and is being used to print animal organs and tissues. The first transplantable tissues are expected to emerge in a few years鈥 time.

 

Bioprinting 鈥 First Trails

During the early 2000s, scientists discovered that by using multiple print heads, they could deposit layer upon layer of living cells so that they would bind together and grow into a living, functional shape of a tissue. The potential medical uses of 3D bioprinting are numerous, starting from the creation of customized prosthetics and implants, tissue and organ fabrication and discovery and dosage of various new drugs.

 

Sichuan Revotek, a biotechnology company based in Chengdu, China, has succeeded in implanting a printed artery into a monkey. Similarly, Organovo, a San Diego company, has announced that it has printed human liver tissue into a mouse and that the tissue has developed and is performing all the necessary functions. It hopes that this will help in developing new treatments for chronic liver failure and inborn liver diseases. At the same time, a team from Northwestern University, Chicago, has printed new prosthetic ovaries for mice that were able to conceive and give birth with the help of this artificial organ.

 

Unlike polymers which are used for traditional 3D printing, scientists use Bio-ink, a material which is derived from alginate, gelatin, and the ECM which can effectively mimic the structure of human tissue. It is printed at much lower temperature (37 掳C or below) and has mild cross-linking patterns in form of Z-axis. The process involves three stages:

 

- pre-bioprinting or creating a blueprint of the tissue or organ

 

- bioprinting, which involves creating a process plan, isolating the cells, loading them into printer and bioprint

 

- post-bioprinting or the final phase when all functions are being tested

 

In a study published by Nature Biotechnology, Dr. Atala and his team members have successfully implanted printed muscle and bone tissues in rodents. After a few months, the tissue developed a system of vessels and nerves which confirmed their hard work. They have already printed human ears, bones, heart, liver and kidney tissues made of biodegradable plastic, but they are still waiting for the government鈥檚 approval for testing it on human patients.

printed external organs

New Advanced Methods and Limitations

A research team from the University of Oxford has developed a new method which takes 3D printing to the next level. They have found a way to solve one of the biggest problems of bioprinting, namely maintaining the shape of cells which often move around in the printed structure. To avoid this, chief medical scientist, Alexander Graham put the cells within nano-litre droplets wrapped in a lipid coating. These droplets were placed layer by layer into a living tissue. The container provided the structural support and the tissues could finally maintain their original shape, which also meant that they could survive longer in a living organism. We were aiming to fabricate three-dimensional living tissues that could display the basic behaviors and physiology found in natural organisms,鈥 Graham said in a press release.

 

According to the NLM report, in the recent years, approximately 120,000 people in the U.S. have been waiting for an organ transplant. When we consider the costs of surgery and follow-up, it鈥檚 not difficult to believe why the idea of printing human organs is getting a lot of hype. However, it鈥檚 still a long way off from becoming a reality. Scientists believe that we will have first functional human printed organs 20 years from now. Currently, bioprinting is only employed to repair human skin. 鈥淎n additional problem is that organ transplantation involves the often difficult task of finding a donor who is a tissue match,鈥 the report continued. 鈥淭his problem could most likely be eliminated by using cells taken from the organ transplant patient鈥檚 own body to build a replacement organ. This would minimize the risk of tissue rejection, as well as the need to take lifelong immunosuppressant.鈥

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