Is there anything that can’t be 3D printed? From miniature figures of your loved ones to bespoke pasta shapes, 3D printing is taking IT services to a whole new level. But while many applications remain very much in the sphere of fun and novelty, there are some increasingly serious applications of the technology.
The Shape of Things to Come
One of the more remarkable new uses for a 3D printing service is the production of imitation human tissue. In connection with a senior level study from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, lead author Dr. Anthony Atala recently told reporters that a breakthrough had occurred.
After years of research studying the exact molecular formation of human tissues such as bone, cartilage and muscle, there is finally a way to reproduce these tissues. Dr. Atala reports that by using a 3D bioprinter, products suitable for use in human transplant surgery could one day become a reality.
When Supply Outstrips Demand
As anyone who follows the news will already know, the supply of donated organs, including skin for transplant, is far lower than the medical demand. While measures are being taken to increase the donation of tissue and organs world-wide, there are still issues surrounding matching and rejection to consider.
For many years, there has been a quest to produce artificially engineered human tissue. This has often been performed via piggyback DNA methods, using human and pig or mice DNA to grow viable human tissue parts on other animals. However, ethical and consumer issues exist around these practices, which make them difficult to research or fund. But researchers now claim that 3D printing could be the key.
This is not the first attempt at engineering human tissue. Scientists had previously produced relatively simple samples in the lab. However, these products were not sufficiently robust to withstand implantation. One major issue was the lack of blood vessels present. This meant that the tissue size had to be minute, small enough to be fed from existing human vessels in the body. Living cells need a constant supply of nutrients and oxygen just to live. Without blood vessels, there is very little chance of the implant’s survival.
How Do 3D Bioprinters Work?
3D bioprinters work by laying down cells in specific patterns, much in the same way as a plastic 3D printing service lays down material to build upon. The only difference here is the polymer material is used in sterile, medical lab conditions. The tissue-like material is laid down in scaffold structures according to the computer model. This allows micro channels to be created, which could act as blood vessels once implanted.
While the tissue currently being produced is still only being used at an animal research level, this new method of engineering human tissue is a potential break-through in this field. 3D printed tissue could mean an end to patients waiting on donated tissue and could also open the door for more cost-effective human-specific medical research.