Imagine a world where organ donors were no longer needed and failing organs were an issue of the past. Well that world is soon becoming a reality with the ability to be able to make artificial organs using 3D technology. The concept is called bioprinting and the possibilities are endless.
Bioprinting is the process of creating cell patterns in a confined space using 3D printing technologies, where cell function and viability are preserved within the printed construct. Generally, 3D bioprinting utilizes the layer-by-layer method to create tissue-like structures that are later used in medical and tissue engineering fields. This all started in 2002 when Professor Makoto Nakamura realized that the droplets of ink in a standard inkjet printer are about the same size as human cells. He therefore decided to adapt the technology, and by 2008 had created a working bioprinter that can print out biotubing similar to a blood vessel. This has been only the start of what is to come, with scientists currently working on the ability to create functioning organs such as kidneys and livers. But so far, scientist have currently only been able to make artificial blood vessels, (as stated above) skin tissue, and many more small but critical organs.
There are three phases are involved in bioprinting, pre-bioprinting, bioprinting and post-bioprinting (real creative.) In the first phase, doctors make CT or MRI scans of the desired organ. Next, they load the images into a computer and build a corresponding 3-D blueprint of the structure using CAD software. Combining this 3-D data with histological information collected from years of microscopic analysis of tissues, scientists build a slice-by-slice model of the patient’s organ. Each slice accurately reflects how the unique cells and the surrounding cellular matrix fit together in three-dimensional space. The second phase of the process involves the actual printing which is a matter of hitting File > Print, which sends the modeling data to the bioprinter. The printer outputs the organ one layer at a time, using bioink and gel to create the complex multicellular tissue and hold it in place. Then for the third and final phase, scientists remove the organ from the printer and place it in an incubator, where the cells in the bioink enjoy some warm, quiet downtime to start living and working together. For example, liver cells need to form what biologists call “tight junctions,” which describes how the cell membrane of one cell fuses to the cell membrane of the adjacent cell. The time in the incubator really pays off — a few hours in the warmth turns the bioink into living tissue capable of carrying out liver functions and surviving in a lab for up to 40 days.
Overall, with what we briefly learned last unit relating to the different systems of the human body, the benefits of bioprinting reach far and beyond what is described within this blog. It will be exciting to see how this new technology evolves and see the impact it will have on the future of mankind and preservation of Animalia.