For years, scientists have predicted that 3-D printing which has been used it to make toys, homes, scientific tools and even a plastic bunny that contained a DNA code for its own replication could one day be harnessed to print live, human body parts to mitigate a shortage of donor organs. So far, researchers also used 3-D printing in medicine and dentistry to create dental implants, prosthetics, and models for surgeons to practice on before they make cuts on a patient.
But many researchers have moved beyond printing with plastics and metals printing with cells that then form living human tissues. Tissue engineering is an emerging field that works on producing artificial tissue and organ substitutes as permanent solutions to replace or repair damage.
About 200,000 people die every year in India due to liver/heart failure. According to government data, 10-15 per cent of these people could have been saved with a timely transplant. However, organs are not as easy to come by as you’d think. For every 25,000 liver transplants that are needed, only 1,500 are performed in India.
3D printing may help change the ground reality for Indians who need an organ transplant. We are now a step closer to 3D printing organs meant solely for transplant. Using the powers of 3D printing, scientists have been able to create artificial human tissue for quite some time now, but now there may finally be some respite in terms of delivery.
The biomedical engineering researchers, are developing 3D temporary organ structures called Scaffolds that may help regenerate damaged tissues and potentially lead to creating artificial organs. These tissues can also be used in various tissue engineering applications, including nerve repair in structures constructed from biomaterials.
No one has printed fully functional, transplantable human organs just yet, but scientists are getting closer, making pieces of tissue that can be used to test drugs and designing methods to overcome the challenges of recreating the body’s complex biology. For perspective, each new organ from a donor may be transplanted into someone else’s body in the first few hours. 3D printed organs too, face the same issue – with an extremely short shelf life for its tissues
3D Printing Techniques
Sacrificial Writing into Functional Tissue (SWIFT)
Stereolithographic 3D Bioprinting
Drop-based Bioprinting (Inkjet)
Fused Deposition Modelling
Selective Laser Sintering
3-D Printing Applications
Physician and Surgical Training
3-D Printing Challenges
One of the challenges of 3D printing organs is recreating the vasculature required to keep the organs alive. Designing a correct vasculature is necessary for the transport of nutrients, oxygen, and waste. Blood vessels, especially capillaries are difficult due to the small diameter. Progress has been made in this area at Rice University, where researchers designed a 3D printer to make vessels in biocompatible hydrogels and designed a model of lungs that can oxygenate blood. However, accompanied with this technique is the challenge of replicating the other minute details of organs. It is difficult to replicate the entangled networks of airways, blood vessels, and bile ducts and complex geometry of organs. The challenges faced in the organ printing field extends beyond the research and development of techniques to solve the issues of multi vascularization and difficult geometries. Before organ printing can become widely available, a source for sustainable cell sources must be found and large-scale manufacturing processes need to be developed. Additional challenges include designing clinical trials to test the long-term viability and biocompatibility of synthetic organs. While many developments have been made in the field of organ printing more research must be conducted.