A new 3D printer signals the possibility of producing tissues, organs and bones in replacement of diseased or injured body structures, a new study found.

The idea of developing body parts using 3D printers have been going around for quite some time. However, the issue of whether it will last long inside the body creates a loophole in the concept, leaving skeptics, well, skeptics.

In a new research, however, regenerative medicine experts from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have provided evidence that it is indeed possible to create a functional body part that can create its own network of blood vessels. The study results also signal that the structures created by their customized 3D printer were able to follow the correct size, strength and function of the human body parts.

"This novel tissue and organ printer is an important advance in our quest to make replacement tissue for patients," says senior author Dr. Anthony Atala.

How It Works

The 3D printer called Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP) was developed for more than a decade. The system introduces biodegradable and plastic-like objects to form the shape of the tissue and water-based gels that serve as the reservoir of cells. To keep the structure sturdy, the researchers also added a strong, temporary structure on the outside.

Battling Challenges

To address the issue of longevity, the scientists implemented two measures.

First, they upgraded the water-based ink of the printer that keep the cells together thus, ensuring optimum cell health.

Second, the researchers printed a grid of microchannels on the entire structure. Such channels enable oxygen and nutrients from the blood to diffuse into the 3D structures, resulting in continuous life and functionality as the structures create its own blood vessel network.

Promising And Long-Lasting Results

In the past, studies show that structures without its own blood network must not exceed 0.007 inches to ensure cell survival. However, in this new study, an ear structure measuring 1.5 inches survived and created its own blood vessels two months after implantation.

The ITOP was also able to show promise in creating soft tissues. The researchers implanted 3D muscles in rats and after two weeks, the structures showed strength, signs of vascularization and nerve formation.

As for bone formation, the scientist printed skull bone fragments and implanted it in rats. After five months, the structure was able to form a network of blood vessels.

"Future development of the ITOP is being directed to the production of tissues for human applications and to the building of more complex tissues and solid organs," the authors wrote.

The study was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology on Feb. 15.

Photo: Yoan Carle | Flickr

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