Signup for Announcements

Printing Organs!

Posted Tuesday, December 30, 2014 at 10:55 AM

"New advances in 3D printing mean biomedical engineers are on the verge of some amazing new technologies."

Engineering Careers
Bioengineering/Biomedical |
Hot Topics
Medicine |

Printing Organs!

PostedTuesday, December 30, 2014 at 11:26 AM

Sophia Luo
Sophia Luo
Printing Organs!

Photo “Hello Printer” by Mika [CC-BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Author:  Sophia Luo   

Let’s take a moment to look back in time at how people have printed over the ages. At one time, the very idea of paper and ink must have amazed many people. With the need to produce several copies of the same text, societies eventually progressed from hiring scribes who tediously transcribed literary works by hand to developing the printing press. Eventually, simple printers that can print hundreds or thousands of copies at a time appeared in homes around the world.

Recent advances in the field have added a whole new dimension to printing, literally. With the development of 3-D printing we can now go beyond a simple flat surface and create three dimensional figures after modeling them on sophisticated software. The ability to print in three dimensions has ushered in yet another storm of innovation and pushed humanity toward making further progress. Engineers and inventers around the world have begun applying 3-D printing techniques to different aspects of daily life. For example, both the automotive and aerospace industries are increasingly turning to 3D printing to manufacture and prototype their products.

One particularly exciting use of3-D printing has emerged in the biomedical world, and it is commonly known as “bio-printing.” This process involves printing digital models using cells. These cells are even being used to produce organs—human organs. According to a CNN article on the topic, “scientists harvest human cells from biopsies or stem cells, then allow them to multiply in a petri dish. The resulting mixture, a sort of biological ink is fed into a 3-D printer, which is programmed to arrange different cell types, along with other materials, into a precise three-dimensional shape. Doctors hope that when placed in the body, these 3-D printed cells will integrate with existing tissue.” Imagine having a printer that can produce a new heart or a new liver on demand!

Of course, some obstacles have arisen as researchers refine the technique. One significant challenge is programming the printed organ so that blood vessels can integrate with printed cells for nutrient transportation and waste excretion. Fortunately, that obstacle may soon be overcome. Biomedical engineers from Harvard University and the University of Sydney in Australia recently reported a new technique for bio-printing a vascular network. According to a report from the Guardian, “Using a high-tech ‘bio-printer’, the researchers fabricated tiny, interconnected fibres to serve as the mould for the artificial blood vessels. They then covered the 3D printed structure with a cell-rich protein-based material….Lastly, they removed the bio-printed fibres to leave behind a network of tiny capillaries coated with human endothelial cells, which formed stable blood capillaries in less than a week.”

The number of companies involved in bio-printing is steadily increasing. Each one is invested in different applications of this innovative technique. Organovo, a California startup, utilizes bio-printing to model diseases, contribute to toxicology, provide drug testing opportunities, and create tissues for transplant purposes. TeVido BioDevices concentrates on using the technology in reconstructive surgery and wound healing, specifically honing in on skin and fat cells, and Tissue Regeneration Systems focuses on skeletal reconstruction and bone regeneration technology.

As you can see, the bio-printing industry has gathered significant momentum. Researchers and companies all over the world have invested in making more progress in the field, and anyone interested in a career in bioengineering will want to at least be familiar with the process.

References:

"About Us." TeVido BioDevices. TeVido BioDevices, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <http://tevidobiodevices.com/about-us/>.

Davey, Melissa. "3D printed organs come a step closer." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 4 July 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jul/04/3d-printed-organs-step-closer>.

Griggs, Brandon. "The next frontier in 3-D printing: Human organs." CNN Tech. Turner Broadcasting System, 3 Apr. 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/03/tech/innovation/3-d-printing-human-organs/>.

Organovo Holdings. "About Organovo." Organovo. Organovo Holdings, 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <http://www.organovo.com/company/about-organovo>.

Tissue Regeneration Systems. "Overview." TRS. Tissue Regeneration Systems, 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <http://tissuesys.com/overview>.

Filed Under Medicine Bioengineering/Biomedical