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A huge breakthrough that we have in technology today is 3D printing. You can print almost anything now a days for example, mechanical parts, prosthetics, electronics, food, even a spare key for those of you out there who are never able to get into your house! But now, a team of biomedical engineers from the University of Utah have created a process to 3-D print cells that can produce human tissue for example, ligaments and tendons. This could make a huge improvement in the medical world. If a patient has a damaged or ruptured ligament or tendon they could remove that bad tissue and implant a new printed one in its place.
This new method of 3-D printing cells is beneficial in many aspects. First of all, patients who receive implants of new printed tissues will not have to undergo any additional surgeries. This will save people a lot of money and all the long recovery process that surgeries cost. Second, patients who receive 3-D printed tissues will not have to take out tissues from other sites which can often be harmful and problematic, thus creating further issues. 3-D printing cells allows for a higher quality operation that has more successful results and is more relief for the patient.
This new process of 3-D printing cells took a whole two years to research and create. The printing process is incredibly complexed and detailed in how it is done. It starts by taking stem cells from a patient’s body fat and then proceeding to print them on a layer of hydrogel to form a new tendon or ligament. The cells that make up the tendon or ligament must then gradually shift to bone cells so the tissue can attach to the bone. This new method of 3-D printing cells is far more advanced than previous technologies. It creates patterns and organizations of cells so that scientists can put them specifically where they want them.
To carry out these procedures, researchers are using 3-D printers that are normally used to create antibodies for cancer screening applications. However, researchers have developed a unique printhead for that specific printer so that it can lay down human cells in the controlled and complex way they desire. They prove this concept by printing out their own genetically-modified cells that glow a fluorescent color so they can visualize the final product. This allows the researchers to know how the cells are producing to form the different tissues.
Up until now, patients have had tissues replaced by harvesting other parts of their body however it has mostly shown poor results. Also, spinal discs which can tend to be complicated structures that have bony interfaces that must be recreated in order to be successfully transplanted. Now, the 3-D printing cells are designed exactly to create new ligaments, tendons and spinal discs. This will solve many of the poor quality issues that harvesting other areas of the body had. This new technology has already brought great improvements and researchers hope to continue this success to go further and 3-D print whole organs.