Are we there yet? Printing the human body, one piece at a time

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3D printing technology is taking a big medical step forward. About a year ago, a team at Cornell University developed a so-called ear printer that prints just that – perfectly modeled living ears. Just like regular 3D printing, the process starts with a 3D model of the ear, which is then printed with “ink” made up of living cells. The 3D ears were indeed living: they grew cartilage over three months to replace the collagen they were molded with.

Around the same time, a team at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK developed a 3D printing method for the creation of spherical aggregates of human embryonic stem cells, all of which maintained their pluripotency after the printing process.

These two examples are hardly rare. Bioprinting, the medical application of 3D printing to produce living tissue and organs is booming, thanks to rapid developments in 3D printing technology. Examples such as the two mentioned above are joined by a growing number of examples of successfully 3D printed constructs, which includes tissues and, increasingly, organs.

The ultimate goal of tissue engineering is to generate organs for transplants. Increasingly, scientists are speculating that bioprinting is poised to make a huge impact on tissue engineering and organ replacement, particularly as bioprinted applications enter the commercialization arena, aided in no small part by the general public’s familiarity with it. Credit the media for that – recent articles in the Economist and the Telegraph join a slew of other mainstream publications which have, over the past year, helped popularize concepts of 3D printing and, now, bioprinting. Bioprinting companies are also emerging, bringing the reality of commercialization closer.

San Diego-based Organovo is leading the pack. The company bioprinted the first blood vessel without scaffolds in 2010, and currently bioprints 3D liver, bone and blood vessel tissues for research and therapeutic use. They are currently conducting animal tests.

Is this the beginning of a 3D revolution? Time will tell, but the beginning is exciting.

Heads up: Meet Akron at biotech commercialization roundtable

Heads up: Akron Biotech CEO Claudia Zylberberg will participate in a roundtable titled “Clinical and Commercial: Successes and Cross Region Collaborations” at the upcoming BioFlorida Latin America & Caribbean Life Sciences Conference in Miami on March 27 and 28 at Florida International University. She will be joined by Rolando Brewer (ThermoFisher), Michelle Cuccia (Teva Latam) and Eduardo Emrich (Biominas).For more information, visit this link. We will be covering the event in the coming weeks, so watch this space and if you are in the area, register to attend.

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2 thoughts on “Are we there yet? Printing the human body, one piece at a time

    Irv Arons (@iarons) said:
    March 10, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Add another “bioprinting” feather to the cap! I’ve just posted an article that relates the story behind the story of another group at UCL in the UK that have been able to use an inkjet printer to print viable retinal cells.

    Here is how I described in on Twitter: Reversing Retinal Cell Death With Inkjet Printing? A group of scientists in the UK are working towards this goal. Read their story:

      akronbiotech responded:
      March 10, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      Thank you for the addition Irv. Amazing story !!

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