Scientists have made a huge leap forward in the field of 3D bioprinting. Currently, 3D printing is experimenting with printing tissue and organs. Artificially constructed organs, living skin, and even blood vessels are being produced using 3D printing techniques. Research is being conducted on artificial organs such as the heart, kidneys, bladder and liver, as well as other major organs. For more complicated organs, such as the heart, smaller constructs, such as heart valves, are also being formed.
New technology is working to perfect the art of printing living tissues made from a gel containing human cells or proteins to promote their growth. A scaffold structure is printed from a mold or modeling software; the scaffold structure is placed in an incubator where cells multiply. Once the organ or cellular tissue is ready, it will be placed into the patient. In time, the living tissue will grow and become a living part of the patient’s body.
Scientists are optimistic about the new 3D printing technology. Trials are underway to spearhead the process of medical 3D printing of living tissue. Many in the medical industry envision a world where doctors order replacement parts for their patients in the same way we now order parts for our car.
In the future, your doctor might take a CT scan and a tissue sample of a part of your body that is diseased. A biotech company would exist to process your cells, create constructs and grow tissue. From there, your organ would be shipped to your surgeon, ready for implantation.
Almost 114,000 people in the U.S. are on an organ transplant list; of these, 20 people on average die from the lack of available organs for transplant. Another name is added to the national transplant list every 10 minutes.
Scientists have developed processes for 3D blood vessels and skin. Cells found in human blood vessels, along with animal collagen, have been used to print a skin-like material. After a few weeks, the cells form into vasculature, which can then be grafted. Early research has found this skin-like material does connect to mammalian skin, where blood and nutrients transfer to the graft, and keeps the graft alive. 3D printed skin is promising for patients with pressure ulcers or diabetes whose wounds often heal slowly.
Another revolutionary application of bioprinting technology is 3D printed bones. Printing bones using 3D printing technology is still an emerging field of research. Still, it has the potential to change medicine drastically. Currently, doctors use bone grafts, metal plates (held in place with screws and wires) or scaffolding. Printing bones using 3D printing technology would make the process quicker, easier, less painful and natural. Ideally, the bone graft would grow into the patients’ existing bone, reducing the need for additional surgeries.
There are three types of materials being researched for printing bones.
This type of bone structure is built from a CT scan of the patient. For this reason, the bone will fit the patient perfectly. The implants are made from calcium phosphate, a main compound in natural bone. This type of bone material will eventually grow into the patients’ existing bone. This type of 3D bone material is very promising; in one study, bone tissue and even bone marrow were beginning to form in the transplant after a short time of being fused with the patient’s bone.
A new 3D hyperelastic bone printable material is being developed. This flexible material can be cut, rolled and easily manipulated. As a result, the material is very easy to implant.
This material is composed of hydroxyapatite, a major compound that gives bone rigidity. Combined with a certain type of polymer, this material, though usually quite rigid, becomes malleable. Hyperelastic bone material is promising because it is a low-cost option for bone transplants. When tested with both mammalian and human stem cells, the material has provided promising cell and bone growth.
Bone scaffolding is a promising technology. The science of bone scaffolding is focusing on mimicking bone shape and composition. The bones are 3D printed in layers and then superheated to their final ceramic state.
Initial tests of bone scaffolding have been very promising. In a 6 months trial with mammals, 77 percent of the scaffolding was absorbed by the mammal’s body, and the newly grown bone was just as strong as the original.
While most 3D bioprinting research is still in the early stages of development, 3D printing has already demonstrated success, especially in the area of skin and bone. These significant developments highlight the potential of 3D printing in the healthcare industry, where solutions can be tailored to the individual patient and their specific needs.
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