Medical breakthroughs are vital to progressing society and saving lives. One of the ones with the most potential for saving lives is the 3D printing of live tissue. Research into printing techniques started in 2003 and several breakthroughs have been made in the field.
Bioprinting is a process through which bio-inks are molded to create organic structures. The bio-inks consist of a hydrogel with human stem cells and supporting nutrients integrated within it. These stem cells then feed on the nutrients and develop into specialized tissues and organ cells. Scientists are currently using 2 separate processes to print and structure the cells.
The first process is called the extrusion process. It consists of printing complex structures by breaking them down and printing extremely fine layers. The bio-ink is first cooled and solidified by liquid CO 2 as it exits a nozzle onto a printing surface. This enables the printing of accurate structures, as the bio-ink thaws the cells begin to grow and develop into a complete structure.
The second process is called projection stereolithography. It is a process in which light is projected onto a light-sensitive bio-ink. When exposed to light this bio-ink solidifies and creates cellular structures. This process is one that allows for extreme resolution when printing. It can create one cell wide capillaries and blood vessels that are necessary within organs to circulate oxygen.
Scientists at Tel Aviv University used bioprinting to successfully create a human heart. They used the cells and tissue they sourced from a patient. Once the heart was printed it turned out to be a perfect match for the patient. The bioprinted heart was a perfect immunological and cellular match to the natural one. However, the printed heart was only the size of a rabbit’s heart and was only a proof of concept to demonstrate the potential of bioprinting. Another group of scientists at Rice University created a working respiratory system using projection stereolithography. It is capable of circulating blood and infusing it with oxygen, however, it is not capable of replacing the lungs as of now due to its size. These developments signal a bright future for bioprinted organ replacements.
Bioprinting also is expected by scientists to revolutionize several other fields of medicine. One of the foremost applications of bioprinting is for medical research. By printing tissue and organs that mimic human tissue more efficient drug testing can occur, as it will be more accurate than the current method of animal testing. This is expected to revolutionize cancer testing and produce more effective treatments. Another major application is within the field of prosthetics. With bioprinting, prosthetics that closely mimic human appendages can be created. These prostheses can replace deformed body parts or those that are damaged. Finally, it is expected to further the training of medical professionals. This will be done by allowing them to practice on near-identical organs that function in the same way as natural ones. This is expected to increase the success rate of surgeries and other medical procedures.
Bioprinting is a technology of the future and may well revolutionize medicine as a whole. It will be used from replacing organs, to research, to medical training. Bettering the lives of everyone it touches.