Scientists 3-D Print Custom-Made Living Body Parts

Tuesday, 16 February 2016 - 9:55AM
Technology
Medical Tech
Tuesday, 16 February 2016 - 9:55AM
Scientists 3-D Print Custom-Made Living Body Parts
A newly developed technology may have just revolutionized medicine as we know it. Researchers from Wake Forest University have discovered a means to 3-D print living tissue--including bone, cartilage, and muscle--for implantation into patients.

There have been experimental medical treatments involving 3-D printed tissues in the past, including a Wake Forest study two years ago in which women were implanted with 3-D printed vaginas, but those efforts were always hampered by the fragility of the resulting cells. The cells would become deprived of nutrients and oxygen, and would die in a short period of time, if they were agglomerated to a thickness above .2 millimeters. As a result, living tissue could be printed, but it wouldn't even approach the strength or durability of human tissue.

This new study, published in Nature Biotechnology, created the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (Itop), builds a biodegradable plastic to provide scaffolding in the form of micro-channels, similar to the holes in a sponge, that allows nutrients to penetrate the tissue. The plastic scaffolding is then soaked in cells grown in a water-based gel. When the tissue is implanted into the body, the plastic then breaks down harmlessly and is replaced through natural processes by a structural matrix of proteins.

Using this technology, the researchers have been able to print skeletal muscle, parts of skulls and jawbones, and even an entire ear, all of which are custom-made to fit the patient's injury. 

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"Let's say a patient presented with an injury to their jaw bone and there's a segment missing," lead author Anthony Atala told BBC. "We'd bring the patient in, do the imaging and then we would take the imaging data and transfer it through our software to drive the printer to create a piece of jawbone that would fit precisely in the patient."
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The tissue has already proven to be as strong as human tissue, although it remains to be seen whether it is equally durable. Researchers estimate that at the current rate of advancement, we will be able to start human trials for implanting 3-D printed body parts within the next decade.

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"The prospect of printing human tissues and organs for implantation has been a real one for some time, but I confess I did not expect to see such rapid progress," said Martin Birchall, a surgeon at University College London. "They have managed to create what appears to be the goose that really does lay golden eggs!"
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