3D printed tissue, an alternative to organ transplants?

Could 3D printed tissues offer an alternative to organ transplants? Hari Sreenivasan talks to Carnegie Mellon professor Adam Feinberg about constructing arteries and embryonic hearts, all with a consumer-grade 3D printer.

TRANSCRIPT

THERE ARE SEEMINGLY NO LIMITATIONS TO 3-D PRINTING, WITH MANY OF ITS APPLICATIONS ONLY JUST EMERGING.

PROFESSOR ADAM FEINBERG AT CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY IS TAKING THIS TECHNOLOGY TO ANOTHER LEVEL, CONSTRUCTING ARTERIES AND EMBRYONIC HEARTS ALL WITH A CONSUMER-GRADE 3-D PRINTER.

COULD 3-D-PRINTED ORGANS OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE TO ORGAN TRANSPLANTS?

HERE WITH ME NOW IS PROFESSOR FEINBERG.

WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT?

YEAH, SO, HERE WE'VE GOT THE BOTTOM OF THE FEMUR.

THIS WOULD BE THE PART THAT IS THE TOP OF THE KNEE.

MM-HMM.

AND THIS WAS PRINTED OUT OF A HARD PLASTIC, SO THIS IS WHAT 3-D PRINTERS HAVE REALLY BEEN ABLE TO DO FOR QUITE A WHILE NOW.

AND THERE ARE ACTUALLY FDA-APPROVED 3-D PRINTED BONE PLATES CURRENTLY ON THE MARKET.

IT'S REALLY THE FIRST DEVICE.

AND THIS WORKS WELL FOR HARD MATERIALS LIKE BONES.

A 3-D PRINTER IS GONNA LAY DOWN MATERIAL LAYER BY LAYER, AND IT STACKS ONE LAYER ON TOP OF THE NEXT LAYER.

BUT FOR SOFT MATERIALS LIKE THE REST OF OUR BODY, LIKE SOFT TISSUE, THAT FIRST LAYER IS GONNA SAG OR DEFORM WHEN YOU TRY TO PRINT IT.

SO WHEN YOU TRY TO PRINT THE NEXT LAYER ON TOP, THAT FIRST LAYER HAS MOVED.

IF THAT HAPPENS, YOU CAN'T REALLY BUILD SOFT STRUCTURES.

RIGHT.

SO WHAT WE WORKED ON IN MY LAB IS BASICALLY HOW DO YOU PRINT SOFT MATERIALS?

AND TO DO THAT, WE REALLY HAD TO COME UP WITH A WAY OF SUPPORTING THAT MATERIAL.

SO, WHAT WE DID IS WE CAME UP WITH BASICALLY A SUPPORT GEL.

SO, THIS PETRI DISH HAS A GEL INSIDE OF IT.

AND WE LITERALLY PRINT A GEL INSIDE OF ANOTHER GEL.

SO, THERE'S THIS TINY LITTLE HAND HERE.

IT'S INSIDE THIS PETRI DISH.

AND THIS IS A 3-D HAND.

I MEAN, THIS IS A -- IT'S NOT FLAT, RIGHT?

IT'S NOT JUST ONE LAYER.

YEAH, THIS IS ACTUALLY MRI DATA OF AN ACTUAL HAND.

WOW.

AND, SO, WHAT DID YOU DO?

YOU INJECTED WHATEVER THE STUFF THAT'S IN THERE INSIDE HERE?

YEAH, NO, EXACTLY.

SO, YOU CAN THINK OF IT KIND OF LIKE A JELLO MOLD, WHERE YOU HAVE THE FRUIT KIND OF JUST HANGING OUT INSIDE...

YEAH.

...WHERE YOU HAVE A SUPPORT THAT'S EVERYWHERE.

AND THAT'S WHAT WE'VE DONE WITH THIS PROCESS.

SO, WE TAKE A SYRINGE ON THE 3-D PRINTER THAT CAN BASICALLY EXTRUDE MATERIAL, AND WE DROP IT DOWN INSIDE OF THIS GEL, AND WE START TO MOVE IT AROUND.

IT WILL PRINT A GEL INSIDE OF ANOTHER GEL.

YOU CAN ALSO THINK OF IT MAYBE LIKE PRINTING INSIDE OF A BOTTLE OF HAIR GEL.

WE'VE ALL SEEN THOSE BUBBLES, RIGHT, IN THE HAIR GEL, THAT'LL JUST SIT THERE ON THE SHELF...

RIGHT.

...FOR YEARS.

IT'S BASICALLY A SPECIAL SUPPORT GEL THAT -- IT'S CALLED A BINGHAM PLASTIC, BUT ALL THAT MEANS IS THAT WHEN YOU APPLY A FORCE, IT FLOWS.

SO, WHEN THE NEEDLE MOVES THROUGH, IT MOVES THROUGH WITH NO RESISTANCE -- AND THAT'S THE NEEDLE OF THE 3-D PRINTER -- BUT WHAT IT EXTRUDES OUT STAYS EXACTLY WHERE YOU PUT IT 'CAUSE IT'S NOT EXERTING ANY KIND OF FORCE.

SO, THAT MEANS THAT YOU COULD ACTUALLY TAKE -- IF THIS, SAY, FOR EXAMPLE, WAS SOME SORT OF AN ORGAN OR A TISSUE, YOU COULD TAKE THIS AND THEN DISSOLVE, I GUESS, THE REST OF THE GEL AWAY, AND TAKE THIS INTO THE SURGERY ROOM.

EXACTLY.

SO, THE SUPPORT GEL IS ACTUALLY MADE OUT OF GELATIN.

AND SO WHAT THAT MEANS IS WE CAN PRINT AT ROOM TEMPERATURE, WHERE IT'LL ACT AS THAT SUPPORT, AND THEN ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS RAISE IT TO BODY TEMPERATURE AND THAT ACTUALLY MELTS THE GELATIN AWAY.

SO, DOES THIS MEAN THAT SOME YEARS FROM NOW I'M GONNA BE ABLE TO PRINT ALMOST A CUSTOM ORGAN THAT MY BODY WOULD NOT REJECT?

THE VISION IS THAT STEM-CELL SCIENCE WILL KIND OF PROGRESS TO THE POINT WHERE WE HAVE CELLS THAT WE CAN TAKE FROM AN INDIVIDUAL AND USE THEM IN AN ENGINEERED TISSUE THAT WE CAN THEN FABRICATE WITH THIS TECHNOLOGY.

MY LAB IS REALLY BUILDING THE TECHNOLOGIES TO BUILD THE STRUCTURE, AND THEN STEM-CELL SCIENTISTS ARE REALLY CREATING THE CELLS THAT WILL BE INTEGRATED INTO THESE SCAFFOLDS.

AND YOU COULD BASICALLY MODEL MY EAR EXACTLY AS IT IS.

YEAH.

AND SO IF, SAY, FOR EXAMPLE, I'M A WAR VETERAN AND I'VE SUFFERED A HORRIBLE INJURY, YOU COULD HAVE THIS -- IT'S NOT JUST FOR COSMETICS, BUT IT ACTUALLY HAS A LOT TO DO WITH HOW WE PERCEIVE OURSELVES, RIGHT?

YEAH, EXACTLY.

SO, WE WANT BOTH STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION.

FOR THE HEART, WHERE WE ARE FOCUSING A LOT OF OUR EFFORTS, AND I HAVE, YOU KNOW, A LOT OF FUNDING FROM DIFFERENT FEDERAL AGENCIES TO PURSUE THIS WORK, IT'S FOCUSED ON BASICALLY REGENERATING PIECES OF HUMAN-HEART MUSCLE.

WHAT'S INTERESTING TO ME IS THAT IT'S SUCH A COMPLEX ORGAN, AND YOU'RE PRINTING SUCH A TINY PART.

HOW DO THEY ALL WORK TOGETHER?

THERE'S JUST AN OPEN QUESTION ABOUT HOW MUCH, ESSENTIALLY, INFORMATION DO WE NEED TO ENGINEER INTO THE SCAFFOLD TO DIRECT THE CELLS, AND THEN HOW MUCH CAN THE CELLS ACTUALLY DO THEMSELVES?

AND IT'S JUST AN UNKNOWN ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION, EXACTLY WHERE THAT LIES, AND IT'S PROBABLY GONNA VARY A LOT DEPENDING ON THE TYPES OF CELLS WE'RE USING, AND ALSO THE TYPE OF TISSUE WE'RE TRYING TO ENGINEER.

YOU KNOW, SOMETHING LIKE SKIN THAT MIGHT BE A SIMPLE SHEET IS GONNA BE FAR SIMPLER THAN SOMETHING LIKE HE HEART, WHICH IS A COMPLEX 3-D OBJECT THAT CONTRACTS, BUT IS ALSO ELECTRICALLY ACTIVE, AND THEN MAYBE SOMETHING LIKE THE BRAIN THAT, ON TOP OF ALL OF THAT, HAS VERY INTRICATE 3-D CONNECTIONS THAT ESSENTIALLY PROVIDE, YOU KNOW, THE NEURAL PROCESSING.

THAT'S VERY FAR OFF IN THE FUTURE.

ALL RIGHT.

PROFESSOR ADAM FEINBERG, THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

GREAT. THANK YOU.