It goes without saying that several industries are dependent on 3D printing. The level of dependency is not the same for all those industries. For some, the dependence is occasional whereas some would cease to exist if 3D printing stops backing them.
Organ printing falls into the latter category. It’s impossible to imagine organs are being printed without a 3D printer because organs are three-dimensional.
The bioprinting industry and 3D are intertwined, and we can expect their connection to deepen in the future. In this article, I’ll discuss several aspects of 3D-led bioprinting along with possible challenges.
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Why 3D printing?
An artificial organ is known more commonly as an implant, and it can replace human organs such as the bladder, trachea, liver, or heart.
It can be manufactured without a 3D printer. But that’s expensive and time-consuming. Achieving perfection would also be a challenge if 3D printers are not used. Aside from all these, 3D printing can render an entire organ whereas conventional techniques manufacture individual tissues and merge them separately.
These are the reasons 3D printing has managed to become the lifeline of the artificial organ manufacturing industry.
3D printer types
A 3D printer used for organ manufacturing can be of different types. The inkjet printer and the six-axis printer are some of them. These printers are more advanced than regular bioprinters.
Inkjet 3D printers: Researchers at the Wake Forest University have modified routine inkjet printers so they could print human organs. It’s actually a marriage between bioprinting and inkjet printers. Here’s a video showing how this printer works.
The printer mimics a normal inkjet printer’s setting. The wells of the printer’s cartridge have cell types instead of ink. The printing process is performed through programming, which commands the machine to arrange the cells in a sequence.
Six-axis printers: The printer is a robot. Unlike a conventional printer, it can print multiple layers of cardiac tissues at the same time. The robots develop and assemble several parts of the heart.
With new types of printers, focused at customized tasks, re-engineering and assembling tissues are becoming more feasible than ever before.
Stem cells in 3D bioprinting
Stem cells are not specialized like normal cells. A stem cell can become any type of cell. 3D bioprinting makes use of them in quite a fascinating manner. The cells are used in the same way a cartridge printer uses ink.
Organic components are used to fill the spaces between tissue layers. The components help to fuse two cells together. The problem with stem cells is they are too delicate for this layer-by-layer approach. Nevertheless, efforts are being made all around the world to uncomplicate the process.
A group of Scottish researchers are working on setting up a type hardware, which will allow for bioprinting of stem cells, and retain their pluripotency and the ability to transform into all types of human cells. When such state-of-the-art 3D printers become a standard in the industry, bio-engineering will get a new meaning.
3D bioprinting materials
You might feel amazed to know cells are not the only printing materials for 3D bioprinting. Biocompatible materials can also be used. Flexible plastic and titanium implants qualify as such materials. A salient feature of biodegradable materials is they are absorbed by the body over time.
A biocompatible plastic or metal enters into the body in the form of an implant. With time, the body accepts the implant, and new cells start to grow around it. Cartilaginous structures and tracheal splints are some of the 3D printed implants. It’s good news that 3D printed materials are not hard to find. Some industries see a scarcity of 3D printable filaments and because of that, 3D-led developments are stalled there.
The body’s reaction
Regardless of whether the prosthetic organs are 3D printed or not, the odds of the body rejecting them is always there. Besides, the organs may need time to integrate into the body. The biggest problem is if a newly implanted organ doesn’t suit the body, operating it out would aggravate the complexity level.
These are the reasons medical professionals are apprehensive about the effectiveness of 3D-printed organs. However, 3D bioprinting is still in its infancy. It needs more time to grow.
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