Creating Transplant Organs With 3D Bioprinters

Updated on January 5, 2018
MakerBot 3D Printer
MakerBot 3D Printer | Source

3D Printing

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.

Questions & Answers

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      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        4 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        This technology is actually showing up more in popular media. There was an episode on Gray's Anatomy where Dr. Gray is using a 3D printer. You're right - it's going to help plenty of people, and is a giant step forward. Thanks for reading and commenting - I appreciate it.

      • Shiley profile image

        Karen Shiley 

        4 years ago from Washington

        Wow this technology could help so many people. Great article!

      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        Au fait - thanks so much for returning, and for posting this on Pinterest. I'm on Pinterest as well - I'll be sure to follow you!

      • Au fait profile image

        C E Clark 

        5 years ago from North Texas

        You have several exceptional hubs, but this is currently my favorite. I've come back to it because I've just opened a Pinterest account and I'm going to pin this hub to my "Science" board. While I'm here, I'll share this hub again with my followers.

      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        gconeyhiden - It is exciting, but I don't know about the perfect 3D kid - talk about a Brave New World. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      • gconeyhiden profile image

        gconeyhiden 

        5 years ago from Brooklyn, N.Y.C. U.S.A

        perhaps in 15 years they will make God......knows....what? the perfect 3D kid. perfect pet? God? this is exciting to say the least.

      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        Patty Inglish - Thanks so much for your vote, and especially for sharing - I really do appreciate it!

      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        TIMETRAVELER2 - I think that in the next 10 years we will many scientific advances that will be truly amazing and save lives. I'm so glad that you stopped by, and that this article has given you hope. Thanks so much for your votes and for sharing.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

        Patty Inglish 

        5 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        Rated Up and shared with followers.

      • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

        Sondra Rochelle 

        5 years ago from USA

        I am so blown away by this article that I can hardly catch my breath. What a great service you have done by researching and publishing this information. As a person who suffers from multiple health problems, I can see all kinds of ways this technology can improve my life. I cannot wait for it to be ready. Yes, there will be societal implications, but my God...what this will do for people is unbelievable! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Voted up, shared, et al. I absolutely love you for this one!

      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        Angela - I'll have to read about the face reconstruction - sounds fascinating. Thanks so much for stopping by.

      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        Peggy - Yes, this is such amazing technology that holds enormous potential. We live in amazing times, don't we? Thanks so much for reading and sharing.

      • Angela Kane profile image

        Angela Kane 

        5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

        I just read about this today about the reconstruction of a man's face. It looks very interesting and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        5 years ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Margaret,

        This new technology is absolutely amazing! Wouldn't it be wonderful if new tissue and even organs could be replicated without the fear of rejection. The costs at first will probably be very high but if it becomes mainstream in the future, many people will benefit from this type of innovative research and development. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Science fiction like Star Trec often comes to pass as fact in later years as Au fait referenced in her comment. Up and interesting votes and will share.

      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        This whole thing is fascinating to me as well. The advances that they are making in this whole area are mind boggling. Thanks so much for reading and for the votes - always good to hear from you!

      • Au fait profile image

        C E Clark 

        5 years ago from North Texas

        I've seen these 3D printers before making other objects (not human tissue). I thought they were amazing then and never imagined they might be used to make human organs. They remind me of the replicators on StarTrek. This is a great hub on a fascinating subject. Voted up and IA.

      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        Gamerelated, the whole 3D technology is so amazing. Both the regular 3D printing and the bioprinting have the potential to completely change society. By the way, congratulations on being nominated for the HubNugget award - I put my vote in!

      • Gamerelated profile image

        Gamerelated 

        5 years ago from California

        Hello mperrottet, I think this technology is amazing. I read an article in Wired Magazine about 6 or 7 months ago about 3D printers, but these printers were used for making rare parts for computers and machines. They talked about how these 3D printers were going to fuel a new DIY movement, but these 3D bio-medical machines can make organs, wow.

        I also saw an article today on Yahoo that says there is a 3D printer that can print a house in 20 hours. I wish I could just print an extra copy of myself, so that I could write Hubs twice as fast.

      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        Thanks for the vote up and share, Stephanie. I don't think many people are aware of them yet, or of the enormous potential that these devices have to change our lives.

      • Stephanie Henkel profile image

        Stephanie Henkel 

        5 years ago from USA

        I had read a little about 3-D printers before, but never heard of the 3-D bioprinters. This is absolutely mindboggling! Thanks so much for this fascinating and well-researched article! Voted up and shared!

      • mperrottet profile imageAUTHOR

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        They are truly amazing, MyWebs, and probably will have a huge impact on us in the future. Thanks so much for reading, and the votes. Much appreciated!

      • MyWebs profile image

        Anthony Goodley 

        5 years ago from Sheridan, WY

        These 3D printers are amazing devices, especially when they are used to print out human tissue and organs.

        Great hub you have here. Voted up, awesome, interesting and shared.

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