An Introduction into Bioprinting
One of the greatest accomplishments in the field of medical science was organ transplant. The idea that you could remove an injured or diseased organ from one patient, take a healthy organ from another patient (living or dead), and then place that healthy organ into the first patient with that healthy organ effectively taking the place of the old one was mind blowing. However the need for this life saving procedure has only increased. New breakthroughs in the medical field have us living longer but as we age our risk for organ failure only increases. And as the demand for organs increases the amount of organs available has stagnated. And even if a patient does receive one of these organs the fear of the body rejecting the organ is still present.
Luckily this need has spawned a field of medical science known as Regenerative Medicine. This field of science is researching everything and anything to deal with this public health crisis. Now it has a new weapon in its arsenal, the bio-printer. The concept of a bio-printer is quite similar to the now commercialized 3-D printer in that it takes a given material and then deposits it, layer by layer, until it builds the desired object. But instead of using plastic, or even concrete, uses a liquidized version of the patients own cells, which is collected by taking a portion of the patients cells that is no bigger than half the size of a postage stamp and then teasing the cells apart in water, to construct an organ specially designed for the patient.
Now these printers come in two forms. The first is like a flatbed printer that would be used for skin level injuries like lacerations or burns. The idea is that the patient would lay on the “bed” portion of the printer. The scanner would come across and scan the wound. Then the “ink jet” portion of the printer would come by, filled with liquefied versions of the desired cells, and would spray these cells layer by layer until the wound is completely cover and/or filled similar to the technology used to heal Hawkeye in the movie Avengers: Rise of Ultron.
The second version is closer to the traditional 3-D printer. This type takes the liquidized cells and builds them, layer by layer, into complete organs. At first this type of bio-printer was only used to make smaller organs such as blood vessels but in 2001 Surgeon Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine used this type of printer to create an engineered bladder for his 10-year-old patient Luke Massella. In 2011 Luke appeared with Dr. Atala on a TED Talk to reveal that since the surgery there have been no complications and he was able to go on to college and live a normal life. Dr. Atala also reported that he is experimenting with engineered kidneys as ninety percent of people on the waiting list for organ transplants are waiting for a kidney.
While bio-printed engineered organs are still far off from being used regularly in the medical field researchers are making great strides toward that goal. In the latest update from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, just in August 2017, they reported having bio-printed an ovary for a mouse. That mouse went on to use that ovary to give birth to a healthy litter or pups.