an illustration showing organs
an illustration showing organs

Infographic: Which 3-D Printed Tissues are Closest to the Clinic?

Skin is much easier to create using 3-D printing than intestines.

emma yasinski
Emma Yasinski

Emma is a Florida-based freelance journalist and regular contributor for The Scientist.

View full profile.

Learn about our editorial policies.

Feb 26, 2020

Researchers have been using 3-D–printing techniques in hopes of developing tissues that can be transplanted into humans. Some printed tissues, such as skin and bone, are already being tested in humans, while many others are much earlier in development.


Bone ­– Scientists have 3-D printed scaffolding that is seeded with living tissue that grows into bone. While several preclinical trials are underway, one patient with tibial osteomyelitis, an infection that damaged 36 centimeters of his leg bone, successfully received the transplant in 2017 and is now walking. Clinical trials are planned.

Cornea A company called Precise Bio reports it has completed initial safety studies in animals of 3-D printed corneas to treat eye injuries, defects, and infections that cause permanent damage. The company has progressed to further preclinical trials in multiple animal models, and expects to begin clinical trial next year. 

Ear – Aurinovo received a rare pediatric disease designation for its 3-D printed cartilage designed to treat microtia, a birth defect leading to a misshapen ear, and plans to begin clinical trials this year. Researchers in China have already reported transplanting 3-D printed ears onto children who had birth defects that left their ears underdeveloped.

Esophagus In 2019, researchers in Japan 3-D printed an esophagus that was transplanted into a rat, though it did not perform as well as a natural esophagus.

Heart – Last year, researchers in Tel Aviv reported 3-D printing a mouse-sized heart using human tissue.

Kidney – Researchers at Organovo 3-D printed a kidney organoid to be used in drug testing.

Liver Researchers at Organovo are testing patches of liver tissue that could engraft into the liver, rather than transplanting an entire organ.

Lungs – Researchers 3-D printed a vascularized model of an airsac that mimicked the function of lungs.

Muscle – In 2018, Wake Forest researchers published a study in which they implanted patches of 3-D printed muscle tissue into rodents.

Skin  Several groups are working on 3-D printing skin. Researchers from Wake Forest University developed a handheld device to print skin directly onto a patient’s wound, which is now entering clinical trials. Last year, another group of researchers 3-D printed vascularized patches of skin and successfully grafted them onto mice.

Stomach, Intestines, Brain Researchers have not yet 3-D printed tissue replicating these organs’ tissues.

Read the full story.