Printing Organs
February 14, 2014

Printing Organs

3D printing is a remarkable thing. From being able to print out customized miniatures for your favorite tabletop game to creating actual, physical examples of mathematical equations, 3D printing is proving to be one of those remarkable new technologies that truly changes the world. Its effects can be felt in almost any field from science and medicine to entertainment. Is there anything that 3D printing cannot do? The list is growing smaller and smaller every day.

How about printing off new organs?

That is exactly what researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Carnegie Mellon University have come up with, a technique that uses micro-robotics to assemble various components of complex materials, creating a way to bio-engineer human tissue through 3D printing. Conducted by Savas Tasoglu, PhD, MS, and Utkan Demirci, PhD, MS, in collaboration with Eric Diller, PhD, MS, and Metin Sitti, PhD, MS, this new research is able to alleviate the shortage of available organs needed for implantation by creating new organs out of the patients own tissues, which also alleviates the risk of rejection found in donated organs. This has also led the way in developing new therapies and testing new drugs without relying on the limitations of reliability and predictability. By engineering the organs needed for testing or implantation, they have created a whole new way to save countless lives while also providing a more practical means of researching cell behavior, such as cancer cell resistance to therapy and new drugs or drug combinations used to treat various diseases.

Their new method of bio-engineering new organ tissue uses untethered magnetic micro-robotic coding for the exact creation of individual cell-encapsulating hydrogels, such as cell blocks/membranes. The tiny robots, which are remotely controlled via magnetic fields such as those developed at Penn State University, moves one hydrogel at a time to create these structures. This is incredibly important for engineering new tissue, as human tissue is a very complex substance, made up of many different types of cells. According to Dr. Tasoglu, “Compared with earlier techniques, this technology enables true control over bottom-up tissue engineering.” Using a bioprinter – a complex 3D printer that is able to generate tissue and other complex materials in a laboratory setting – further benefits of this remarkable new technology may yet be uncovered.

There are some who might look at this in the same light as cloning and question its moral applications, though personally I see this as a remarkable new technology that can be used to save many lives worldwide. There has always been a problem of long waiting lists on donated organs, and this new technology offers a solution to that problem as well as others. Innovations like this one are what propel us forward, what help lend hope for a better tomorrow, and show us just what can be possible when brilliant minds come together in cooperation.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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