3-D Printing Human Tissue

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Scribe: Sharon Vining

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3-D printing is a technology which can produce objects of almost any shape or size, including highly customized medical devices using a computer model.

Scientists at Melbourn TTP have even created a 3D printer which they hope they will be able to use to tailor make medical devices and transplant organs.  TTP has developed a special print head nozzle which can dispense with high degree of accuracy a wide range of materials. 

It can print using only single materials or groups of materials.

Sam Hyde, Managing Director of TTP states, “The medical possibilities are very exciting. Organ-printing could be done in the next five to ten years.  You need to get the right kind of cells to the printer and keep

them in the right condition.   The key thing is to delicately dispense

these cells into the right position without damaging them. Our technology is very good at that.”

In the meantime, these printers, using designs made from a MRI scan are making simpler structures such as customized surgical implants, hip replacements or orthopedic implants.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are working on a valve-based cell printer that creates living human embryonic stem cells.  These cells could be used to grow replacement organs or create tissue for drug testing.

Researchers at the University of Missouri in Columbia printed blood vessels and sheets of cardiac tissue that beat like a real heart.  At the Graunhofer Institute in Germany, a group created blood vessels.

Using a 3D injet printer, they printed artificial biological molecules and zapped them into shape using a laser.

Scientists at the Laser Center Hannover in Germany laser printed skin cells.  This engineered skin could be used to replace damaged skin. 

Using stem cells, they went on to create grafts that could develop into bone and cartilage.

Dr. Ralf Gaebel of the University of Rostock in Germany, made “heart patches” using 3D printed cells.  He then implanted them in the hearts of rats that had suffered heart attacks.  The hearts with the patches showed improvement in function.

Engineer Utkan Demirci, of the Harvard University Medical School printed ovarian cancer cells into a lab dish.  This will allow them to study the cancer cells in a more systematic environment.

Surgeon Anthony Atala, Director at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is working on printing transplantable organs. His early experiments to print a transplantable kidney look promising.

The future for 3-D printing in the field of medicine looks very bright.

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