Created on: February 07, 2013
Years ago 3-D printing began as a rudimentary technology developed for industrial engineering applications. Today the technology has grown into bio-engineering and bio-printing applications are being created to manufacture human organs and entire vascular systems.
Some biologists see 3-D printing of human organs as a major foundation of future medicine as the technology can be customized to match each individual patient's own tissue and stem cells thereby avoiding any chance of rejection.
Doctors are jumping on the emerging technology and some leading technologists predict that in the not-too-distant-future new kidneys, livers, or spleens will be printed on demand. All that's needed is a quick DNA scan that's entered into a computer and presto, the organ will be manufactured to exacting specifications: the patient's own specifications.
Technology has arrived
The ability to print out solid objects from computer programs has been used in the plastics industry for many years. The technology's been adapted to print bio-material such as blood vessels and ultimately teeth, bone tissue and organs.
Although translating the technology from plastics to bio-materials has taken time, prototypes of whole organs are already being printed.
Patient's cells are harvested assuring a DNA match. The manufactured cells are built in layers with a thin layer of "bio-paper gel" between them—not unlike building a tower of Oreo cookies with cream-filling between each layer.
As the building process continues—following the computer-generated model of the intricate bio-structure—the gel gradually dissipates and the layered cells join together forming a complete structure: a liver, spleen, artery, or other needed body part.
Implant rejection eliminated
Because the human body's immune system is designed to attack foreign objects or biological intruders, tricking or fending off the immune system is one of the primary stumbling blocks inherent in the field of organ transplants.
Yet bio-printing avoids that potential pitfall: the patient's own DNA is used in the creation of the new organ or other body part so no risk of rejection exists.
Stem cell research enhanced with 3-D printing
Recently researchers published a new study revealing breakthroughs with 3-D and human embryonic stem cells. Science Daily reports that Dr. Will Wenmiao Shu of Heriot-Watt University, and a co-author of the study published in the journal Biofabrication, explained that the Scottish team successfully employed new 3-D printing techniques to artificially line up human embryonic stem cells (hESCs).
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that hESCs have been printed," Shu said. "The generation of 3D structures from hESCs will allow us to create more accurate human tissue models which are essential for in vitro drug development and toxicity-testing. Since the majority of drug discovery is targeting human disease, it makes sense to use human tissues."
We can print you
Until recently, 3D printing was a slow and cumbersome process. During late summer 2011, however, 3-D printing industries trumpeted huge breakthroughs—the entire process was dramatically accelerated.
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