Each year there are over 100,000 people on the national waiting list for major organ transplants. Every 10 seconds, another name is added to the list and, sadly, 21 people die each day because they could not receive a lifesaving transplant. However, could 3D Bioprinting, a production method which is becoming increasingly popular, help save and improve lives?
In an article published in Nature Biotechnology, researchers from Wake Forest University, North Carolina, demonstrate a remarkable reconstruction. A 3D printing technology on biological tissues was designed to build an ear cartilage, cranial bones, muscles, and human jaw fragments from biomaterial and stem cells. And, for the first time, living cells have survived the printing process. The researchers were also able to implant their printed 3D structures in rodents. If the technology works as well in humans as it does in rodents, doctors may one day be able to use the patient’s own cells to print new bones, muscles or a piece of cartilage.
The printer has four print nozzles operating simultaneously on a platform which moves along the x, y, and z axes. Two nozzles dispense cells to form the tissue, while the other two control the hydrogel injections, constructing the mold on which the stem cells are dispensed. They also fill in the microchannels that will form the blood vessels. Once the cells are connected together, creating a continuous and stable biomaterial, the hydrogels are dissolved, clearing the conduits through which the blood will flow.
3D Bioprinting Effectiveness
The effectiveness of this 3D bioprinting technique has been demonstrated through experimentation on rodents. This technique has produced:
- Skull bone fragment measuring 8 mm in diameter × 1.2 mm (0,32 inch x 0,05 inch) in thickness (figure 1);
- Jaw fragment measuring 3.6 cm × 3.0 cm × 1.6 cm (1,42 inch x 1,18 inch x 0,63 inch) (figure 2);
- Muscle measuring 15 mm × 5 mm × 1 mm (0,59 inch x 0,20 inch x 0,04 inch), and ear cartilage measuring 3.2 cm × 1.6 cm × 0.9 cm (1,26 inch x 0,63 inch x 0,35 inch), made from human cells (figure 3).
The transplants were proven reliable when, after a few months, they had formed a vascularized tissue. As a result, researchers are very excited to start testing their technique on humans. Before that, however, the durability of the grafts will need to be established. If this is successful, we can expect to witness a new era in medicine for all mankind.
Anouer Kebir is currently working toward the PhD degree in electrical engineering at ÉTS. His research interests include real-time optimization and control of solar energy and bioenergy.
Program : Electrical Engineering
Research laboratories : GREPCI – Power Electronics and Industrial Control Research Group