The advances and development of 3D printing is astonishing. It improves quickly and is majorly used in the manufacturing industry. Bioprinting, a version of 3D printing, is heavily tested in the medical field in order to create new living tissues through inkjet printers.
This seemingly futuristic technology can innovate the medical field by providing affordable and convenient prosthetics or organs.
How Printing Parts Works
PrinterInks, a company based in the UK, has partnered with Organovo, an American startup to create a visual guide or an infographic to bioprinting. Organovo specializes in printing and designing human tissues for medical applications.
To print a functioning human tissue, stem cells and a modified cartridge are used. The cells are grown using a traditional process which helps them multiply. Once they grow, these are formed to spheres and are loaded to the cartridge. This is the BioInk.
The ink is loaded to the NovoGen MMX bioprinter. The machine prints a layer of the cells, follows it up with a layer of Hydrogel, and a top layer of cells. These layers will fuse together and be built upon.
When the desired layers are printed, it will be left to mature. Once the structure has grown, the water-based gel will be removed. Other researches used a solution of water and sugar to hold the structure together.
The Uses of Bioprinting
These printed tissues are currently used in medical research. This helps in testing new drugs and in investigating human diseases. Soon enough, bioprinting will be used in implanting healthy and functioning human organs.
Organovo has successfully printed liver tissues for testing. The company also printed human blood vessels without scaffolds in 2010. They have printed eye cells using bioprinting, as well.
An average earlobe or liver will take around 10 days to print. Scientists are now testing the technology in creating organs that will last longer and will be potentially used in transplants.
Just recently, a child received a printed windpipe using her own stem cells in a modified inkjet printer. A bionic ear in Princeton University was also created using similar methods.
The Future for Organovo
The company is planning to launch and market its printed liver tissues to research labs and pharmaceutical companies by December this year. They are also currently developing other human tissues, like muscle, lung, and breast cancer tissues.
With the fast advancement of the technology today, the sci-fi concept of making one’s own organ may become a reality in the years to come.
The Ethics Debate
Although bioprinting holds a lot of potentials in saving lives and in helping the economy, there have been a lot of concerns for the technology. Many people are concerned over the quality and the regulation of 3D printed organs in the medical field. Some claim that 3D printing human body parts allows man to play God and blurs the lines between man and machine.
Moral and ethical dilemmas are expected with the turn of this kind of technology. Its development is even faster than man’s own acceptance and understanding of it. The technology will be both a challenge and a gift to man.