3D printing takes the science of regenerative medicine to a whole new level with the replacement of human organs. The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is printing organs using human cells in a biodegradable frame allowing for nerves and blood vessels to grow into the organ and function normally.
Changing the face of medicine with 3D printing
3-D printing takes the science of regenerative medicine to a whole new level with the replacement of human organs.
The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is printing organs using human cells on a biodegradable frame, allowing for nerves and blood vessels to grow into the organ and function normally.
Here's the story.
This lab at Wake Forest University's Institute for Regenerative Medicine looks pretty much like any other lab.
Lab coats, microscopes.
There's a device to warm and prepare samples.
Lots of samples in a tray.
And in the back of the lab there's a machine that looks pretty much like the standard 3-D printer.
Lots of ink reservoirs and nozzles, a computer to program what's printed, and an automated system that slowly builds a model, layer upon layer.
However, this device is anything but your standard 3-D printer.
So, you know, the strategy is that we take a very small piece of tissue from a patient -- less than half the size of a postage stamp.
We then expand the cells outside the body, and we then place these cells on cartridges just like your ink-jet cartridge.
But instead of using ink, we use cells.
And we then print these structures one layer at a time.
And as we print the cells, we're also printing the structure that holds it.
The glue, if you will.
So we create the structure together.
This is the integrated tissue and organ printing system.
What it prints is alive.
There are tens of millions of living cells suspended in a gel.
There's also a precise latticework of microchannels 200 microns wide imprinted into the system.
The vessels allow blood and nutrients to flow through the tissue.
The printed organ, made from the patient's own cells, is designed to be surgically implanted back into the patient.
You know, the interesting thing is that you're using the patient's own cells to create these tissues and organs, so basically the body recognizes them and adapts them as their own.
Blood vessels and nerves will actually grow into these tissues, and they will become functional inside the body.
The framework is a 3-D model created from an X-ray of the patient's actual organ.
And because each organ has specialized cells, the tissue sample is taken from the specific organ to be printed, and a protocol is designed to expand the cells.
With this technology, you're taking the patient's own cells, and we're using a glue-like substance, but when this gets implanted into the patient, the cells remain but the glue goes away, and it gets replaced by the patient's own glue.
So, six months later, you're left only with the patient's own tissue and organ.
So far, the research team has implanted into humans flat structures such as skin, hollow, tubular structures such as blood vessels and windpipes, and hollow non-tubular organs, such as a bladder and a stomach.
But those tissues and organs were handmade in the lab, and the customized scaffolds were coated by hand with the patient's cells.
What you are watching is research into the future of regenerative medicine.
3-D printers that can scale up the process so tissues and organs don't have to be tailor-made.
How can we actually accelerate the production of some of the technologies that we're working on?
For example, tissues and organs?
And the future is promising.
The new printing system, with its breakthrough technology of microchannels, has created 3-D-printed muscle and bone that have been successfully implanted in animals.
Those microchannels allowed blood vessels and nerves to generate after implementation.
For us, of course, it's all these challenges every day -- 'How do you solve this problem?
How do you solve this other problem?'
So there are always challenges that you have to face, and that you have to try to solve.
So it's not like there's this one big 'Eureka!' moment.
You know, it's really a lot of hard work that goes behind making sure that these technologies do, at the end, work.