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Are Organs possible to be 3D printed?

Have you ever wondered if it would be possible to ‘print,’ human organs for medical use? The recent developments in the medical tech sphere suggest that this may become a reality sooner than we think. What is the process? 3D …

Neil Sewell

October 1, 2020

Have you ever wondered if it would be possible to ‘print,’ human organs for medical use? The recent developments in the medical tech sphere suggest that this may become a reality sooner than we think.

What is the process?

3D organ printing, otherwise known as bioprinting, enables cellular structures to be fabricated using bionics which are laced with stem cells. Biomaterial is deposited layer by layer to make tissue, skin and sometimes even an organ! This is the same method FDM (Fused deposition modelling) printers such as Markforged, Ultimaker, Sindoh and Raise 3D. The amount of projects involving bioprinting is increasing, and each one moves us closer to a viable transplant alternative.

Making 3D printed parts suitable for transplantation would result in a long term solution to help understand certain diseases better as well as deal with a lack of organ donors. Below are some examples of the main bioprinting projects, including some 3D printed organs!

Examples

A 3D Printed Heart

In April 2019 a team of researchers in Israel were able to print a small 3D heart the size of a cherry. The heart possessed cells, blood vessels, chambers and ventricles, resulting in a first for the industry. To reduce the chance of rejection when implanted the researchers used the patient’s fat tissue to develop a hydrogel. Although the heart is about the same size as a rabbit’s, it is a step in the right direction.

An American company known as BIOLIFE4D have also managed to print a miniature human heart with cavities and ventricles.

3D Printing An Ear

Queensland University of Technology helped Maia Van Mulligan regain her hearing by using 3D printing to make her a new ear. They used her cartilage cells in order to make the ear so that there was little risk of rejection when installed. They state the ear is fully functional and will allow Maia to hear again, surprisingly this type of printing is less expensive than current alternatives.

3D Printed Corneas

Scientists at the University Of Newcastle have been able to print the first human corneas. Which will allow them to ensure an unlimited supply of corneas in the future by using their process.

Collagen and alginate are mixed with stem cells from a healthy donated cornea to make a ‘bio-ink,’ that could be printed. A low cost 3D bio printer was able to print the human cornea by extruding in concentric circles. Secondly, the cornea only took ten minutes to print! The dimensions of the cornea was based of an existing one, obtained by scanning a patient eye. Therefore this allows the corneas to be printed rapidly whilst maintaining the correct size and shape.

It will still be several years before they could be used for transplants as they need more testing. However being able to print corneas using coordinates from the patients eye could potentially combat the world wide shortage.

Watching-a-cornea-be-3D-printed
Watching a cornea print. Source: University Of Newcastle

3D Printing Bones

A team from the University of Glasgow have taken on a project to fabricate bones using 3D Printing. They have developed a new technology which they call Nano kicking, which allows them to create 3D samples of bone structure.

They take stem cells from human donors and then turn those cells into 3D bone grafts. To make the bone grafts they use additive manufacturing, the same process that Ultimaker, Sindoh, and Raise 3D use. Testing has already taken place for this technology; a dog was supplied with 3D printed bones instead of having it’s leg amputated. Consequently the next step of the process is to make these 3D printed grafts ready for industry and implantation.

Bone grafts. Source: https://www.sculpteo.com/

FormLabs

By using CT and MRI scans FormLabs are able to turn that data into 3D models which can then be printed. This allows for an extremely adaptable process which can work for many medical areas. Those being; cardiac, orthopaedic, maxillofacial, surgical oncology, paediatric and neurosurgery.

After post-processing these parts can be used for education, diagnosis and help make patient matched surgical tools. They even have materials that can be sterilized! For example BioMed Amber and Clear.

Formlabs Medical Materials
FormLabs Medical Models

Conclusion

In conclusion most 3D printed organs aren’t going to be able to replace transplants for a while. However there are definitely some exciting projects that imply that they could be on the way sooner than we think!

Solid Print3D is here to help you make the right decision with your next 3D Printer purchase. For more information, please call Solid Print3D at 01926 333 777 or email at info@solidprint3d.co.uk

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