New organs and body tissue created with 3D printing
3D printing has grown massively in the last few years, as ambitious companies begin to experiment with new materials. 3D printers have been used in industries including manufacturing, fashion and retail, however the application of 3D print technologies to the healthcare sector has opened up a whole new world of opportunity for the creation of biological matter. The use of 3D printing to create organs and tissue is called bio printing. But how does it work?
Bio printing works by creating layer upon layer of physical, biological material using cell patterns. At the moment there are three main approaches to design. The first is biomimicry, which copies an existing organic structure. In 2010, startup Organovo was the first to create blood vessels using this method. The second type of bio printing is autonomous self-assembly, which prints cells that behave like evolving tissues and develop on their own. The last is called ‘mini tissue’ and is a combination of both. ‘Bio ink’ is made up of living cells and nutrients, which function as a liquid and can therefore be manipulated. Bio printing has already been used to replace skin tissue and limbs. By using a set of original cells from the patient for modelling, replacements can be printed in under an hour. Researchers are also experimenting with ‘scaffolding’, which applies bio printing to the repair and replacement of joints and ligaments.
Bio printing is important because it has huge disruptive implications for healthcare, providing a potential solution to the limited availability of organ donors and allows patients to receive new body parts, tailored to them, at incredible speed. As quality of life improves, bio printing will be a useful tool in navigating the maintenance of an ageing population. However, bio printing is a complicated process and will face many issues. For example, there are so many different cells in the human body that it’s hard to find a cell pattern that provides consistent quality when recreating organic products. Scientists and researchers also need to contain the finished material in a suitable environment, simulated using chemicals and mechanics. Getting this wrong could ruin the whole process. Despite these obstacles, bio printers have the potential to become standard fixtures in medical facilities across the world.