Washington D.C.: For years, printing functional organs and body parts, like ear, jaw and muscle, has been nothing but science fiction, but now, a study claims that it is possible in real life too.
Using a sophisticated, custom-designed 3D printer, regenerative medicine scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have proved that it is feasible to print living tissue structures to replace injured or diseased tissue in patients.
The scientists said they printed ear, bone and muscle structures. When implanted in animals, the structures matured into functional tissue and developed a system of blood vessels. Most importantly, these early results indicate that the structures have the right size, strength and function for use in humans.
Senior author Anthony Atala said that this novel tissue and organ printer is an important advance in our quest to make replacement tissue for patients, adding that it can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue of any shape. With further development, this technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation.
The Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP), developed over a 10-year period by scientists at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, overcomes these challenges. The system deposits both bio-degradable, plastic-like materials to form the tissue "shape" and water-based gels that contain the cells. In addition, a strong, temporary outer structure is formed. The printing process does not harm the cells.
A major challenge of tissue engineering is ensuring that implanted structures live long enough to integrate with the body. The Wake Forest Baptist scientists addressed this in two ways. They optimized the water-based "ink" that holds the cells so that it promotes cell health and growth and they printed a lattice of micro-channels throughout the structures. These channels allow nutrients and oxygen from the body to diffuse into the structures and keep them live while they develop a system of blood vessels.
"Our results indicate that the bio-ink combination we used, combined with the micro-channels, provides the right environment to keep the cells alive and to support cell and tissue growth," said Atala.
The ITOP system was also able to use data from CT and MRI scans, allowing the researchers to 'tailor' tissue for patients. The study appears in Nature Biotechnology....