3D printing and the healthcare industry seem to be getting along very well. The medical industry was one of the first to embrace the advantages of 3D printing by putting it into application in prosthetics, a variety of surgical devices that are made from plastic or metals and finally we have news on their latest endeavors in using cells that can recreate human organs through the technology of 3D printing. 3D bioprinting is the name given to this technique which is fairly new and rather ambiguous to the average person for now. While 3D printing is already creating a revolution in the manufacturing industry, the recent development of the bioprinter has created ripples throughout the world and not just the medical industry.
A bioprinter can be constructed in different types of configurations but all of them work by outputting cells from a bio print head. This head moves in all the different directions to place the cells accurately where they are required. It takes several hours to complete the process of printing an organic object which consists of a lot of extremely thin layers.
Most of the bioprinters output a dissolvable gel in addition to the cells. This gel prevents the printer from damaging the cells during the process of bioprinting. Some of the pioneers of bioprinting are Professor Makoto Nakamura who was researching the use of an inkjet printer to print human cells since 2002. He found success in 2008 when he had created a working model of a bioprinter which had the ability to print out biotubing which was similar to a blood vessel.
Organovo is another name that has been closely attached with bioprinting. The company was formed by a research group which was led by Professor Gabor Forgacs. In 2008, the company successfully bioprinted functional blood vessels as well as cardiac tissue with the help of cells which were obtained from a chicken. Organovo collaborated with Invetech to build a commercial bioprinter by the name of Novogen MMX.
How does it work?
A tissue design is selected and the company creates bio-ink which is made from cells. With the help of a bioprinter like the Novogen MMX, the cells are layered between water-based layers till the time the tissue is built. Hydrogel is used between the layers which helps in filling spaces in the tissue or is used to support the tissue that has been bioprinted. Another material that helps fuse the cells is collagen. Layer by layer the organic object is built just like a 3D printer works to produce any other object.
Things that you must know about 3D bioprinting
At this time, 3D printing has not progressed far enough to create complete organs. One of the barriers doing so is vascularization. An organ needs a lot more than just cells. Arteries, capillaries as well as veins are required for the organ to work. These help in providing the right nutrients and removing waste created by the cells. Researchers are working towards making the organs functional by 3D printing blood vessels.
Another concern for those who would want to use 3D bioprinting for a transplant or a surgery must be aware that there is a possibility that your body may reject the 3D printed cells even if the tissues from one area of your own body is used to be put in a different part of the body. With the technology of 3D printing being in the amateur stages, these possibilities are often overlooked in the zeal of making the technology work.
A possible application of 3D bioprinting can be in the field of pharmaceutical testing where researchers can use artificially created cells to test drugs and do their research work rather having humans or animals involved in the process of lab testing. The method will be more acceptable by people around the world and the results will be more accurate too. Additionally this can be cost-effective process.
3D bioprinting has opened new avenues for us to enhance the ways in which medical treatments were done. While it is going to take time for the applications of 3D bioprinting to go mainstream, the excited world is willing to wait so that the technology advances into being more accurate.