Medical 3-D Printing’s Frontiers

Layer-by-layer manufacturing techniques could help re-make human body parts, or produce entirely new biocompatible machines.

By | August 22, 2013

Some researchers are attempting to use the open-source Fab@Home printer to construct living tissues.FLICKR, ROBERT HUNTAs 3-D-printed tissues and organs slowly make their way toward the clinic, researchers are finding creative side-uses for the computerized manufacturing technology, The New York Times reported.

For instance, researchers at the University of Illinois are building “biobots,” miniature springboards made of cardiac muscle cells that inch forward as the cells beat. Such devices could travel around within a patient’s body to deliver drugs or find and destroy toxins.

“Our goal coming into this was the holy grail—organ printing,” Vincent Chan, who worked on the project as a postdoc at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told NYT. “But, obviously, it’s very complex and very difficult.” 

Others are shooting for making lab studies more effective by creating small patches of tissue for in vitro experimental use. The San Diego company Organovo, for instance, is developing printed “strips” of liver cells for drug testing.

Complexity notwithstanding, researchers continue to make progress on bringing printed tissues to the clinic, experimenting with printing such relatively simple tissues as cartilage, which does not need extensive access to blood vessels to thrive.

“Printing a whole heart or a whole bladder is glamorous and exciting,” Darryl D’Lima, a Scripps Translational Science Institute researcher who is attempting to print cartilage, told NYT in a separate article. “But cartilage might be the low-hanging fruit to get 3-D printing into the clinic.”

For an in-depth look at the challenges of getting 3-D printed organs and tissue into the clinic, see “Organs on Demand” in the upcoming September issue of The Scientist. 

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Avatar of: Ed M.

Ed M.

Posts: 44

August 23, 2013

Your surgeon will be with you shortly, they're printing out your new kidneys...

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