A new high-tech device known as 3D bioprinter can now help scientists print cartilage, bones, and muscle, a new study suggests.
The 3D-printed organ and tissue structures and could be used in the future to replace distressed or injured tissues in patients, according to the researchers.
Dr. Anthony Atala, senior study author and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, said that the new tissue and organ printer is able to fabricate human-scale tissue of any given shape. It will one day help make replacement tissue for patients, Dr. Atala added.
Because there are quite few organs and tissue donated for transplants, compared with the patients who need them, the demand for engineered organs and tissues has increased lately, researchers noted. These organs and tissues can be made using 3D bioprinters that lay cells onto a scaffold in layers and precise patterns.
The new 3D printing system helped the researchers overcome previous challenges. For instance, simple tissues that were previously engineered in a lab were too weak to be implanted in the human body, or they were not complex enough. Moreover, those tissues lacked blood vessels.
To help form and mimic the shape of the original tissue, the new 3D bioprinter prints cells along with polymer materials. According to Dr. Atala, the researchers also printed micro channels throughout the tissues to enable oxygen and nutrients to reach and feed the cells that are located deep within the tissues, so they do not die.
In an experiment, the researchers printed human-scale ear structures from rabbit cells. Then, they implanted the ear structures under the skin of mice. To support the structures, blood vessels and cartilage tissue had formed around them. The structures maintained their shape and had not broken down within the mice’s body, even two months after the procedure.
The researchers were also able to use human stem cells and print human-scale jawbone fragments. Dr. Atala said that although the results are promising so far, more research is needed before 3D-printed tissue can be tested in human patients.
Using rat and mouse cells, the researchers printed fragments of skull bones and muscle tissue. After they implanted them into rats, they saw that the muscle tissue had induced the formation of nerves and it had developed blood vessels. Five months after being implanted, the skull bones had formed bone tissue with blood vessels.
The study was published on Monday (Feb. 15) in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
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