Getting a human kidney
on demand - imagine the smiles it would bring to millions of people who are
waiting for a kidney transplant! Well, those days are not far away, thanks to
the wonderful technology of 3-D printing.
is nothing short of a revolution in the making. The Harvard School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences ranked it among the first ten in breakthrough
technologies that could change the world. No wonder, from developing a
, creating a real gun,
and building a house in 24 hours to developing prosthetic limbs, human organ
prototypes, and even tissue with blood vessels, 3-D printing, especially 3-D
bio-printing is the latest buzzword in the research circles.
What is 3-D Printing?
3-D printing is a
process of making three dimensional solid object from any digital object by
using additive processing technology which involves creating and laying down
successive layers of the material using a computer aided
(CAD) package or a 3D scanner.
processes are used in 3-D printing. Some of them are as follows:
Melting or softening material to produce sequential layering •
Curing liquid material •
Laminated object manufacturing where thin layers are cut to shape and joined
These technologies use
common materials such as metal alloys, for example, titanium alloys, stainless
steel or materials like metal powders, ceramic powder, plaster, and even
What makes 3-D
printing interesting is its use in biomedical and tissue
. For example, surgeons used a type
of flexible plastic to make windpipe splints for an American infant who had a
condition that caused his windpipe to collapse. Similarly, in another case,
titanium powder was used to create 3D printed lower jaw implant. These are
examples of 3-D bioprinting.
3-D bio-printing and Tissue Engineering
is a type of 3-D printing that is used in health care
industry and by medical researchers and bio-engineers. Basically, what
researchers are doing here is they are trying to create a three-dimensional
living tissue realistic enough to test drug efficacy.
They also want to take
a step further to create fully functional tissue replacements and print it
using 3-D bioprinters so that surgeons can use them to repair or replace
damaged tissues and organs by a process called tissue engineering.
Surgeon Anthony Atala
and his colleagues at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are
working on regenerating and growing tissues and organs and currently they are
developing a technology that can 'print' human
on demand. To make the tissue 'prints' functional, these
tissues need a network of blood vessels to make them living, and of course
making 3D prints of blood vessels is not an easy thing to do because the
vascular system has to be provided with life sustaining oxygen and nutrients
and also a way to remove carbon dioxide and waste material.
developed many 'bioprinters' and the most often used one is the 'inkjet
inspired' printer in which cells are used like ink. Substances like hydrogel or collagen are used to hold the cells
together. Harvard researchers have developed a kind of 'ink', one that melts as
it cools. They first printed a network of interconnected filaments, then melted
the material by chilling them and then suctioned the liquid out thus creating a
network of vessels (tubes).
engineers have been waiting for a method like this," said Don Ingber, Judah
Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology and Professor of Bioengineering at
Harvard and founding director of the Wyss Institute.
believed that the ability to form functional 3D blood vessel
networks before they are implanted will cause thicker tissues to be formed, and
also greatly increase the chances of their engraftment and survival."
through cell culture has been resorted to by scientists for years, but 3D printing
gives the advantage of reducing the costs and offers an opportunity of printing
an entire organ rather than just pieces.