We all know how amazing the human body is. It has amazing regenerative capacities as well. Did you know that if a human being donates one of the lobes of the liver for someone who needs a new liver, the donor’s remaining two lobes would function for the missing lobe until the body regenerates the third lobe in 90-120 days? Amazing isn’t it? Similarly the recipient, who is given one healthy lobe to function, will also grow two other lobes to carry all the functions of a whole liver.
This however, does not always happen and there are limits to what the body can do. If an organ is beyond repair, one has to look for a transplant. Transplantation has its own risks, the key issue being rejection. But now there have been such incredible advances in 3D technology that it has opened new doors in medical science. We are not far from printing actual human parts.
“Using a custom 3D printer, regenerative medicine scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have proved that it is feasible to print living tissue structures to replace injured or diseased tissue in patients.” — Plasticstoday
Plasticstoday has also quoted that as reported in Nature Biotechnology:
“the scientists have printed ear, bone and muscle structures and implanted them in animals, where they matured into functional tissue and developed a system of blood vessels. The structures have the right size, strength and function for use in humans, according to the researchers.”
This is a significant advance to their quest to recreate living tissue and organs. Anthony Atala, MD, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) was also quoted to as saying:
“This novel tissue and organ printer is an important advance in our quest to make replacement tissue for patients. It can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue of any shape. With further development, this technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation.”
Just as with any product that is developed, the biggest question with tissues or organs developed this way is their shelf life. According to plasticstoday, Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine has addressed this issue by optimizing the water-based ink that holds the cells together. This ink is supposed to promote cell health and growth. The report also further claimed their success on a baby-sized 1.5-inch ear structure that survived and showed vascularization of tissues two months after implantation.
Jaw bones fragments, skull bone fragments, muscle tissues and ear structures have been printed in the past and placed under the skin of mice for promoting growth. These experiments have been successful so far.
Scientists and doctors have used CT and MRI images to create tailor-made prints to suit the requirements. We are very close is providing solutions for those with ear deformities or even a missing ear. As the technology slowly moves towards printing tissues that can one day form a heart or a lung, for now 3D technology is proving to be an amazing thing to look forward to for reconstructive surgeons.
The things these 3D printers can do, and are predicted to do, is nothing short of amazing. I really think they are going to change our world in big ways.