Imagine a 3D printer being used to print human flesh or cartilage that would replace damaged or diseased tissue. Research is under way at two medical schools, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina and Pennsylvania State University.
3D printing is not totally new to medicine. Its use has been in printing metals or other materials used in orthopaedic surgeries. It has been used for bone replacement, but never before tissue. This new 3D printer tagged the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System is capable of producing fleshy tissue structures. The system works by depositing both biodegradable plastic-like materials to form the shape of the tissue and water-based gels, the “ink” in the printer, that contains cells.
“This novel tissue and organ printer is an important advance in our quest to make replacement tissue for patients,” said Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and senior author on the study. “It can fabricate stable, the human-scale tissue of any shape. With further development, this technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation.”
Research engineers at Pennsylvania State University are working with cow cartilage using the 3D printing process. In this case, cow cartilage is the “ink” in the printer.
Dr. Ibrahim Obzolat, a professor of engineering science and mechanics, the leader of this project, states, “Our goal is to create tissue that can be used to replace large amounts of worn out tissue or design patches. Those who have osteoarthritis in their joints suffer a lot. We need a new alternative treatment for this.”
If this research proves to be a success, the next step would be to use this technology on human cartilage. As in the case of organ transplants, there is the possibility of rejection. Patients would provide their materials so as to eliminate rejection.
Research and development continue, but the outlook is good for helping those who suffer from osteoarthritis or in need of replacement tissue.