One of the trending topics of the last couple of years has clearly been 3D printing as it has a lot to offer not only in medicine and healthcare but in any industries as well. How useful printing medical devices in underdeveloped areas could be, or even printing simpler drugs. But imagine a world in which you can print living materials and tissues.
A PopSci article described how a bioprinter works, here is the simplified process:
- Step 1: Engineers load one syringe with a bio-ink containing tens of thousands of parenchymal liver cells and a second syringe with a bio-ink containing non-parenchymal liver cells.
- Step 2: Software on a PC wired to the bioprinter instructs a stepper motor attached to the robotic arm to begin printing a mold (arranged in a honeycomb pattern).
- Step 3: A sensor tracks the tip of each syringe as it moves along and determines where the first syringe should be positioned.
- Step 4: The robotic arm lowers the pump head with the first syringe, which fills the honeycomb with parenchymal cells.
- Step 5: Engineers remove the well plate and place it in an incubator. There, the cells continue fusing to form the complex matrix of a liver tissue.
A similar process in action when Chinese scientists are successfully 3D printing living human kidneys is demonstrated in the video:
To produce mass amounts of the living cells, samples of human kidney cells are cultured in large volumes and blended with hydrogel, a water- and nutrition-rich material that makes up the 3D printed kidneys’ base. Afterwards, the printed cells can survive for up to four monthsin a lab thanks to this gel’s rich nutrient source.
The New York Times also has a great video about this topic.
But there is a huge technological issue. Printing something new in 3D requires detailed knowledge and prepared models. Therefore people now print objects of which the models are already available online. A solution might be provided by Makerbot Digitizer which actually replicates objects and print them in 3D. Again, imagine the same thing with living tissues.
It’s much more futuristic than just printing 3D objects, but its time will come.