The technology for using 3-D printing to create organs for transplants has moved a step forward. According to an article published in the journal Langmuir, a group of scientists made headway in figuring out how biological “inks” behave as they are dispensed through the nozzle head of a 3-D printer. Biological inks are composed of cells and a 3-D printer drops the cells in a precise way to build up the organ of choice.
Type of organs that can be created using 3-D printing are livers, kidneys, hearts and other body parts. Currently, when people have damaged kidneys, for example, they must receive a functioning kidney from a donor and then the donated kidney is transplanted into the individual in need. There are too few organs, however, for the numbers of people who need them. 3-D printing of biological tissues and organs offers exciting possibilities for manufacturing these desperately needed biological organs. The 3-D technology could also use a person’s own cells to make an organ for transplantation, which would circumvent all the problems people have with immune system rejection when they receive an organ from another person.
The scientific team that is working on 3-D printing technology are from Clemson University in South Carolina, The University of Florida at Gainesville, Zhejiang University in Zhejiang, China and Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Inkjet printers have been used commonly by many people in both their homes and workplaces. These printers work by depositing molecules of ink on paper according to the commands of a computer. More recently, 3-D printing was invented and it has quickly become available even to the general public. With 3-D printing, little pieces of plastic are deposited and piled on top of each other to create 3-D objects. Computer programs for design are easily used to determine the shape of the desired objects. The transformation of 3-D printing to create biological materials was another revolution in this technology. In 3-D printing of biological tissues, droplets that contain cells are precisely placed and 3-D biological materials are made. The ink used in 3-D printing of biological materials is called living cell-laden bioink.
The technological advance announced by the research team involved creating a viable fabrication technology that included good bioink printability. Of concern is the breakup time, droplet size and velocity of the delivery of the bioink. The cells in the bioink have usually been fibroblasts and sodium alginate. Various concentrations of the cells in the bioink were tested.
The results from the testing showed that as the concentration of the cells in the bioink increases, the droplet size and velocity of the drops decrease. Also, the formation of the droplets is suppressed and the breakup time of the droplets increases.
Biofabrication of body parts using 3-D printing is an amazing new technology that makes the imagination soar. As stated above, the drive to develop biofabrication is to make organs for transplantation. However, there could be other purposes for 3-D biofabrication in the future. For example, could it be possible to create an entire living organism with 3-D biofabrication? If this ever happens, it would be very interesting to see what would make the organisms actually come to life. 3-D printing of organs is moving forward fast and step by step will open new doors to a future that can hardly be imagined.
By Margaret Lutze