3D bioprinting is a technique that is very similar in many ways to traditional 3D printing techniques and 3D metal printing techniques. The general concept of 3D printing involves converting an image that is in 2D into an object that is in 3D. 3D bioprinting takes this general concept one step further. 3D bioprinting involves taking meticulously adding “pores” to the material that is 3D printed so that blood vessels and tissues can grow into and accept that 3D printed object as an object that is supposed to be a part of a living organism’s body.
3D bioprinting is currently successful in growing tissues like ears, jaw bones, and other bone fragments that can be used in reconstruction procedures. These 3D printed biostructures are often accepted into the body once they are implanted because the “pores” inside of the 3D printed structure allow for blood and nutrients to flow freely.
How Exactly Do 3D Bioprinters Work?
3D bioprinters are incredibly complex. There are a few different types of bioprinters depending on the demands that are expected of them, but all bioprinters utilize a bioprint head that strategically place cells as they are printed. That bioprint head works in a similar way to other 3D printers in that they are able to move upward, downward, left, right, backward, forward, and every direction in between.
This freedom of movement allows the bioprinting head to place cells so that there are tiny holes left throughout the structure to account for the blood flow that will hopefully reach them. 3D bioprinters place cells in layers along with a dissolvable gel that helps to protect the cells during construction. After a few hours of this layering process, the structure is complete and is ready for insertion. The structure is placed under the skin of a rodent and is left to grow for weeks to months before the new structure can be harvested for use in a human patient.
What Are 3D Bioprinters Capable Of?
3D bioprinters have been successful in creating a range of small pieces of cartilage and bone. While the trials for these biostructures are still in their infancy, they seem to be working very well. These studies are currently performed on rodents and do not have much trial testing on humans yet. Researchers have noticed that when these structures are printed with pores and inserted into the skin of rodents, the rodent’s body begins to supply blood and nutrients to that structure. Within weeks to months these structures begin to function as they were intended to do.
3D bioprinters are not yet able to print larger, more complex structures such as the heart, kidneys, liver, or lungs. These structures are in high demand as there are few of these precious organs that available for the many thousands of people waiting on transplant lists around the world. Scientists and engineers have high hopes that the 3D bioprinter will be able to print these important organs in the near future so that many more lives can be saved.