The drive to use 3-D printing in the health care sector has been a journey of blood, sweat, and tears.
The blood part: One of the intractable difficulties in printing human organs has been the creation of necessary blood vessels and ventricles. Creating a solid mass of flesh was easy, but adding a way to pump blood and other nutrients through the flesh was more difficult.
Then came the sweat part: researchers keep working on it. And now scientists at the University of Sydney, Harvard, Stanford, and MIT have solved some of the problems by creating a skeleton of vessels, then growing human cells around them. Once the vessels are stable, they are able to dissolve the 3D printed material.
“Imagine being able to walk into a hospital and have a full organ printed – or bio-printed, as we call it – with all the cells, proteins and blood vessels in the right place, simply by pushing the ‘print’ button in your computer screen,” said Dr. Luiz Bertassoni of the University of Sydney. “While recreating little parts of tissues in the lab is something that we have already been able to do, the possibility of printing three-dimensional tissues with functional blood capillaries in the blink of an eye is a game changer.”
The vessels are then used to move nutrients through bioprinted tissues, allowing for better cell differentiation and growth.
This technique could allow researchers to build “organs” in the lab by growing cells on the network of capillaries. The researchers believe this will eventually lead to true organ regeneration, which would be a breathtaking achievement in the medical sciences.
Blood, sweat — and tears of joy for the many people in the world who will benefit if the research leads to a great new medical advancement.
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