Bioprinting: A major advancement in regenerative medicine

A 3D printer printing human tissue

Many advancements have been made in the field of regenerative medicine. One of these key advancements is 3D bioprinting. Bioprinting is defined as using viable cells and biomaterials or biological molecules to create 3D structures. Major organ shortages currently exist. It is crucial that scientists can find ways to meet these demands and close the gap. The importance of this discovery addresses the need for making organs and tissues available for use.

A 3D printer printing human tissue
An example of what 3D printing tissues looks like in the laboratory. The printer is capable of dispensing biological material to form a tissue or organ.

How the Process Works

The entire process of bioprinting tissues begins with imaging the damaged tissue area using X-ray, CT, and MRI scans. Next, the design and material/cell composition is determined, before bioprinting can take place. At the bioprinting stage, three main printers are currently being used: inkjet, microextrusion, and laser-assisted printers. Inkjet printers use thermal or piezoelectric (acoustic pulse) to form droplet patterns. The dispension from a microextrusion printer allows for continuous streams to be printed. Lastly, laser-assisted printers use lasers to propel cell material on a substrate.

Applications of Bioprinting

3D bioprinting provides an alternative to animal models and autologous/allogenic implants which are current tools used for research. As well, recapitulating disease in cell models that can maintain the structural integrity of organs are useful for drug screening and discovering potential therapies. An understanding of the cell’s microenvironment and arrangement of supporting cell types plays an important role in the success of bioprinting.

The discovery of iPSCs, cells which have the potential to generate all cell types of the body, can now be 3D bioprinted, allowing for the study of disease pathogenesis in a realistic environment. Bioprinting one’s own cells is promising, since complications can be circumvented as cells can be transplanted back into one’s own body. One exciting discovery in the field is that scientists can now print 3D mini versions of the heart.

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