Creating Transplant Organs With 3D Bioprinters
3D printing is a process through which solid objects are built by feeding a 3 Dimensional model of the object into a 3D printer. The printer then builds the object by creating many very fine layers of material until the desired object is fully formed. This is quite similar to the way a dot matrix printer forms an image on a page. The 3D printing process has been around since the mid-1980s, but recently there has been a surge of interest in these printers for manufacturing and home use. As prices of these machines are going down, the number of objects that can be created is going up. Everything from shoes, eyeglasses, jewelry and toys to guns and aerospace parts are but a few of the articles that can be produced from a 3D printer. A titanium jaw was recently printed out by a 3D printer, and successfully inserted into an 83 year old woman. It' s predicted that the 3D printing market will hit $3 billion by 2018. There are so many exciting aspects of this technology, but the most revolutionary and intruiging is it's ability to produce living tissues and organs for human transplant.
3D Bioprinters Evolve
A Bioprinter is a 3D printer that uses living cells as ink, depositing layers of biological material to build an object. This technology is being hotly pursued by many researchers in the hopes that eventually entire organs will be created that can be used for human transplant. The beauty of such as technology is that these organs would be custom built from a patient's own cells, and so their body would accept the new organ without the rejection factor.
An early pioneer, Professor Makoto Nakamura, developed the first working bioprinter in 2008. This printer can print out biotubing similar to a blood vessel.
Professor Makoto Nakamura's Printer
The Organovo NovaGen MMX Bio-Printer
The first commercial organ printer, the NovaGen MMX was produced in 2009 by the SanDiego based company Organovo. In December of 2012, Organovo announced a partnership with Autodesk, Inc., a leader in engineering software, to create the first 3D design software for their bioprinter. Using two print heads, the NovaGen MMX printer lays down a scaffold of biopaper made of collagen, gelatin or other hydrogels with one print head, and the other places ink made of human cells into the scaffold. Layer by layer, the final object is built up into the proper shape. Over a few days, the cells merge into a piece of tissue. So far the company has created lung, cardiac muscle and blood vessels. Their goal is to produce full organs. They predict that the kidney will be the first to be produced. It may not look exactly like a human kidney, but it will function as one, cleaning waste products from the blood.
Wake Forest Institute For Regenerative Medicine
Wake Forest scientists were the first in the world to successfully transplant a laboratory grown bladder into a human. Today, Wake Forest is using a 3D bioprinter to engineer sophisticated prototypes of organs. The goal is to make functioning kidneys and other solid organs like hearts and livers, in addition to solid organs like the uterus. They are also developing on-site “printing” of skin for severe wounds. This could be used to repair the wounds of soldiers with life-threatening burns. Using ink jet technology, skin cells would be placed into a print cartridge and printed directly on the site of the wound. Watch the video below as director Anthony Atala demonstrates their amazing technology.
In February 2016, researchers at the Wake Forest North Carolina hospital announced that they successfully implanted ear, bone and muscle structures into animals. Since the structures matured into functional tissue and developed new systems of blood vessels, it's very likely that they could be implanted into humans. Doctor Atala believes that in the future this technology will enable the printing of custom organs of any size or shape.
University Of Pennsylvania – How Sweet It Is!
University of Pennsylvania recently announced that is was successful in producing a vascular network by using a custom-built 3D printer that prints out a sugar lattice. Once hardened, these sugar scaffolds can be surrounded with a biogel containing cells from the desired organ type. Once the sugar cage dissolves, there's a network of living tissue through which blood (or nutrient materials) can flow. Using this technology, rat liver cells were produced and kept functioning for eight days.
University of Pa's Rep Rap 3D Printer
The Impact Of 3D Bioprinters On Our Future
This new technology is not as far away as you may think. Printed arteries may be used in heart transplants in as little as five years. More complex organs may be possible in as few as 10 years. This is wonderful news for the many people that will need organ transplants.
However, there may be many societal implications from these amazing advances. Will the cost be so prohibitively high that only the very wealthy will be able to afford new organs, or will they be freely available to anyone? Will we see an enormous leap in life extension? If so, will the planet be horribly overpopulated? Will being able to get new organs easily tend to make us more careless with our health? Only time will tell.