Merely a few years ago, 3D printing was seen as a futuristic technology that would take decades to advance. Fast-forward to 2021 and 3D printing has come a long way. In recent years, significant investment in research and development has allowed this technology to evolve into the area of 3D bioprinting.
3D bioprinting uses biological materials, called bio-ink, to recreate the biological systems of living organisms like the human body. Bio-ink is generated from cells from a living patient, cultivated from the required part of the body (e.g. skin cells, kidney cells). The living cells are then matched with a synthetic mixture, which supports cell growth.
Applying the bio-ink layer-by-layer, the 3D bioprinter constructs the object according to a detailed computer design until all cells are deposited in the correct formation.
By replicating the structure and function of internal organs and tissue, it is hoped that in the future we will be able to assist those in need of an organ transplant or those undergoing a medical procedure.
As can be expected, there are many challenges to perfecting this emerging technology. The distortion of bio-inks, particularly due to the effect of gravity in the printing process, reduces the fidelity of the finished product. To date, this limitation has prevented the production of adult-sized organs.
Currently there are many different models of 3D bioprinters in testing. The Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH) 3D bioprinting approach is one such model. It has been trialled to recreate nanocellulose, hydrogels, scaffolds for stem cell growth, and heart chambers.
Read more about this approach, and the future developments in 3D bioprinting technology, at https://www.news-medical.net/news/20210216/3D-bioprinting-paves-way-for-functional-adult-sized-tissues-and-organs.aspx.