Although the concept is still experimental, researchers have shown that it may one day be possible to use 3D printing to create replacement tissues and organs.
In a 2011 Ted Talk, Dr. Anthony Atala, a practicing surgeon and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, demonstrated how researchers may one day be able to combine their advancements in human cell growth and biomaterials to create printable models of organs.
How is this done? The researchers collect data about a patient’s organs via a CT scan then create a computerized form of their organ to print. “This model is used to guide the printer as it layer-by-layer prints a three-dimensional structure made up of cells and the biomaterials to hold the cells together,” Dr. Atala writes in an article about the technology for CNN.
We’re still many years away from doing this on a routine basis, but there’s hope that printing organs could one day supplement the shortage of live organs. Printing more structural outer-tissue body parts may happen sooner. In February, researchers at Cornell University showed they were able to print a 3D replacement ear.
Dr. Atala’s bioprinting team has expanded their projects to include printing nose and ear cartilage, muscular-tendon junctions (which could help build a multi-tissue structure like an arm), bone, and the trachea. They’re currently designing more sophisticated printers with finer detail capabilities to build better tissue and organ prototypes.
Watch Dr. Atala’s 2011 Ted Talk on printing a human kidney:
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