3D printing is seeing some incredible advancements and is currently one of the leading technologies in a variety of fields. Some of the greatest potentials for this technology is seen in the medical field.
3D bioprinting involves the printing of organs, ready for organ transplants in patients that need them. Scientists have been working hard to utilise 3D printing in organ donation and since the early 2000s there have been a growing number of medical and scientific trials undertaken on this area.
However, scientists have faced some issues in their quest for useable 3D printed organs. The biggest issue that the medical field has faced when seeking to make 3D printed organs a viable option for organ transplants, is that most of these organs cannot be sustained for prolonged periods by the body; over time the printed organs disintegrate.
But in 2016, we came closer to revolutionising organ transplants, as scientists came closer to printing organs and bio-material that could be readily accepted by the body.
In 2016, scientists undertook research that involved designing bone, muscle and cartilage. These designs were later successfully tested on animals and unlike in previous instances, they were fully accepted by the animals’ bodies.
The BBC delved into the science behind these designs: “The team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre developed a new technique that 3D-prints a tissue riddled with micro-channels, rather like a sponge, to allow nutrients to penetrate the tissue.
The Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System - or ITOP - combines a biodegradable plastic which gives the structure and a water-based gel, which contains the cells, and encourages them to grow.
When the structures were implanted into animals, the plastic broke down as it was replaced by a natural, structural "matrix" of proteins produced by the cells.”
In addition, 3D printing technology can allow scientists and medical professionals to design bodyparts that specifically fit the needs and demands of the individual patient.
Smithsonian explores how this customisation works in more detail: “Jackson oversees the development of a skin-cell printer, which is designed to print a range of living skin cells directly onto a patient. “Say you have an injury to your skin,” Jackson suggested. “You’d scan that wound to get the exact size and shape of the defect, and you’d get a 3-D image of the defect. You could then print the cells”—which are grown in a hydrogel—“in the exact shape you need to fit the wound.” Right now, the printer can lay down tissues at the top two layers of skin, deep enough to treat—and to heal—most burn wounds.”
3D bioprinting is still in it’s infancy, yet the results so far look incredibly promising and could realistically promise some incredible advancements in medicine in the foreseeable future.