You could literally print anything with a 3D printer, They say. But did you ever think about a 3D printed heart or kidney? Did you seriously? Actually it could be possible according to modern research.
Bioprinting is an additive manufacturing process where biomaterials such as cells and growth factors are combined to create tissue-like structures that imitate natural tissues. The technology uses a material known as Bioink to create these structures in a layer-by-layer manner. Bio ink is the material used to produce engineered or artificial live tissue using 3D printing technology. It can be composed only of cells, but in most cases, an additional carrier material that envelops the cells is also added. This carrier material is usually a biopolymer gel, which acts as a 3D molecular scaffold. Cells attach to this gel, and this enables them to spread, grow, and multiply. The technique is widely applicable to the fields of medicine and bioengineering. Recently, technology has even made advancements in the production of cartilage tissue for use in reconstruction and regeneration.
In essence, bioprinting works in a similar way to conventional 3D printing. A digital model becomes a physical 3D object layer-by-layer. In this instance, however, a living cell suspension is utilized instead of a thermoplastic or a resin(which is used in normal 3D printing). The process principally involves preparation, printing, maturation, and application.
A group of scientists at the American Friends of Tel Aviv University has 3D printed a fully-vascularised heart using fat tissue cells from a donor. The fat cells were partially cultured and reprogrammed into heart cells. The entire heart structure is present with all cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. The structure was based on medical images of the donor patient’s own heart. Of course, the technology is at its early stages itself. As of now, the heart that was printed by the researchers doesn’t give a chance and it has got a size of a rabbits heart. But it’s a great success to artificially create, literally print a heart at this low cost and Eventually, we’ll make it happen.
Wake Forest School of Medicine has designed a printer that can print skin cells directly on to a burn wound. The traditional treatment for severe burns is skin grafting, where healthy skin is harvested from an unburned part of a patient’s body. This in itself can be traumatic to heal from, and in some cases, there isn’t enough healthy skin left on the body to use. You know what, all these innovations, the impact that is gonna affect on humans are really huge.
The greatest importance of bioprinting lies in the resulting tissue-like structures that mimic the actual micro- and macro-environment of human tissues and organs. You know what, Sadly, 8,000 people die each year (on average 22 people each day — almost one person each hour) because the organs they need are not donated in time. 80% of patients on the waiting list are waiting for a kidney. When living tissues and organs need not come from humans, this budding technology offers other massive opportunities. The process could eradicate the headaches associated with organ donation and transplantation. Apart from the lack of available organs, the entire process is criticized from a moral and ethical perspective. So, it’s pretty clear that bioprinting will only continue to develop. It will surely justify its value both from a moral and ethical perspective, which is always a major challenge in technologies associated with nature. Let’s see where the technology is in a few more years!