Alright geeks, are you ready to hear about the latest feat pulled of thanks to 3D printing? Are you excited to learn what new supposedly impossible lands 3D printing has conquered? Well, get ready geeks for this one and its implications are really huge. Scientists have made use of a 3D printer to 3D print life-size body parts and tissues by making use of living cells as the ‘ink’ for 3D printer.
Yes, you’ve read that right. They 3D printed properly sized and alive body parts. The structures created are sturdy while exhibiting strength of the optimum level and thus prove to be a viable option for replacement with the nature-built body part. This is something that bioprinters have failed to achieve as of yet. What’s more interesting is the fact that these 3D printed body parts can be customized according to the patient receiving them.
Anthony Atala from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine who is one of the researchers that worked on the project said, “It can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue of any shape. With further development, this technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation.”
Previously bioprinters have been used for printing out tiny or simplistic copies of organs such kidney tissues and brains, however, such replicas were only limited to be used as research items for scientists. What has been achieved is 3D printing of objects that are big, stable, sturdy and ‘alive’ enough to be used as alternatives for the real thing.
So far, the biggest problem that was being faced was limited to figuring out that how these cells will be kept alive during the 3D printing process and how would the team incorporate the required items for functioning of the body part. These required items included blood vessels and vascular structures that are in charge of keeping a regular oxygen flow.
Atala says, “Cells simply cannot survive without a blood vessel supply that’s smaller than 200 microns [around 0.1 cm], which is extremely small. That’s the maximum distance. And that’s not just for printing, that’s nature.”
Atala and his team were able to figure out a way to tackle this. They made use of living cells that were taken from transplant recipients and mixed them with unique kinds of gels and plastics that are designed for mimicking muscle, biological tissues and cartilage. These materials provided the 3D printed body part with a structure while it is being implanted surgically and after it has been implanted, the gel and plastic components get dissolved leaving the 3D printed biological material behind.
Arielle Duhaime-Ross says, “At the same time, the cells secrete a supporting matrix that helps maintain the implant’s shape. By the end of this process, the cells have reorganized themselves in a self-sufficient manner that negates the need for supporting materials.”
The 3D printed structures basically ‘shed’ the scaffolding that they have been provided with and then are receptive to the growth of living supports being extended by the recipient’s body such as new bone, tissue or cartilage cells.
The research team has demonstrated its capability and command over this technology by 3D printing an ear, bone and muscle structures with the help of living cells that were taken from humans, mice, rabbits and rats. Human trials still have to take place, however, when the human-sized ears were implanted under the skin of mice; the ears retained their shape and were able to grow supporting cartilage along with maintaining a healthy supply of blood within 8 weeks of transplant.
2 weeks after the rats were transplanted with 3D printed muscle tissue, nerve cells began to grow around it and during a 5-month trial skull fragments implanted into the rats were able to form new bone tissue along with a functional blood supply.
Adam Feinberg, a biomedical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University said, “You’re going to see a lot of exciting advances over the next year or two that will push this from the realm of science fiction into something that’s close to impacting patients.” The research has been published in Nature Biotechnology. It is amazing to see what wonderful feats 3D printing is helping accomplishing. Now that you’ve read about the 3D printed body parts, read about how 3D printing helped in transplant of an adult kidney into a child.