Humanity is one step closer to being able to print 3D replicas of a person’s bones ready for a surgical transplant, following the invention of a new bioprinter that creates human tissue from scratch.
Scientists in the United States have created a new integrated tissue–organ printer (ITOP), which can produce structurally sound tissues in any shape desired.
In a paper published in Nature Biotechnology today, the researchers demonstrate how the bioprinter can create human-scale mandible bone, ear-shaped cartilage and skeletal muscle using human and animal cells.
The new machine is set to pave the way for the production of 3D tissues created specifically to be transplanted into humans, and the building of more complex tissues and even solid organs.
“With further development, this technology may produce clinically useful tissues and organs that incorporate multiple cell types at precise locations to recapitulate native structure and function,” the authors explain in the paper.
Stable tissue at last
Researchers explain that previous bioprinters have often produced constructs too fragile and structurally unstable to be surgically implanted into a person or animal.
This new bioprinter promises to overcome this problem by printing cells together with biodegradable plastic-like materials. These support the structure until the tissue matures and can hold its own.
The creators also integrated microchannels into the printer’s design to deliver nutrients and oxygen to cells anywhere in the structure, thus allowing them to create larger tissues.
“The ITOP can generate 3D free-form shapes with multiple types of cells and biomaterials, resulting in various architectures with the potential to form various vascularized tissue types,” they write.
Towards a biofabricated future
Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science at the University of Wollongong, Professor Gordon Wallace, says that advances in biofabrication research are a positive move forward for health, science, and manufacturing in Australia and around the world.
“We will soon be able to treat clinical conditions that we couldn’t have treated before,” says Wallace.
“There’s an opportunity there for the manufacturing industry to build printers, which are customised for a clinical application. There’s also a huge opportunity for Australia to do more work in the biomaterials space.”
Prof Wallace adds that future research must not only focus on the clinical applications of 3D-printed body parts, but on the method of bioprinting and the equipment used for the industry to advance.
Professor Peter Choong from St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, surgically implanted the first 3D printed heel in Australia in 2014 in collaboration with Prof Wallace’s research team and other collaborators around the world.
“We’ve also just started to look at printing eyelet cells that can be transplanted into a patient suffering from diabetes,” explains Prof Wallace.
“If we can print those cells with support materials and surround it with the right mechanical and chemical environment, then hopefully the effectiveness of the cells will be much greater.”