3D printing is normally used to reproduce items such as machinery parts, toys, tools, weaponry and other gadgets. However, a group of doctors at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine recently made an announcement regarding the fact that they have successfully managed to 3D print “living” tissue and organs that are able to function properly after being implanted into animals such as rats and mice.
Revolutionizing Surgical Replacements
The team of doctors, led by Anthony Atala, is already well-known for the fact that its members were able to print the building blocks for human bladders. However, their research and experimentation has taken them to an all-new level in that they have discovered that it is possible to print structures that are big enough and strong enough for humans to use. So far, they have managed to 3D print ear and bone tissue and various muscle structures, and with a little more work and research, this technology could revolutionize the way in which surgical replacements and transplants are approached. Patients may not have to wait as long for much-needed organ transplants in future.
Integrated Organ and Printing System (ITOP)
At the forefront of the initial discovery is what is known as the Integrated Organ and Printing System (ITOP). This is completely different to the other types of 3D printers that are currently available in that it is making use of “biodegradable, plastic-like material” to form and mold the shape of the tissues, along with a water-based ink solution that helps hold cells and a series of micro-channels together that allow essential nutrients and oxygen to flow through them. The initial idea is to create and develop the strongest and most durable tissue that will be able to integrate into humans and animals as seamlessly and effectively as possible.
A Formidable Achievement
There has been much news doing the rounds regarding the possibility of 3D printed organs and body parts over the past few years. However, this particular achievement is highly notable because of the fact that Atala and his team were able to use the ITOP printer to create human-sized ears that were then implanted under the skin of mice. Over the course of just two months, the implanted ears were able to form their own blood vessels and cartilage. The team has seen similar progress and results when they implanted skull bone and muscle tissue into rats. This level of progress means that it should not be much longer before a range of human trials are conducted.
If further research proves to be successful, it could lead to many replacement organs being printed at some point in the future. This means that numerous patients who have been on transplant waiting lists – some of them for many years already – would be able to receive their much-needed transplants far quicker. However, there is still plenty research that needs to be performed before the 3D printing of organs can be hailed as a medical miracle.