Sound’s futuristic, right? Well, it is not anymore. A decade ago the idea of printing a functioning human organ might seem impossible. But, here we are nearer to a day when with the push of a button, we might be able to make a new ear or a tooth using a special 3-D printer.
A standard 3-D printer uses materials such as polymers and metal, to build up any trinket or object, layer upon layer. 3-D printing is an additive method, which places successive layers of the material until the required object is created. The special printers used to create human organs are known as, Bio-printers. These printers use human cells as ink to eventually build a functional organ. The bio-inks are deposited to create 3-D tissue and structures, which are used in medicine and/or tissue engineering.
Although several organs are still in the early stages of development, here are a few organs that have been recreated.
The Human Ear: The printer lays down a pliable, porous scaffold made of hydrogel, a kind of polymer. This scaffold is then filled with skin and cartilage cells, which eventually fill the ear-shaped form. In about six months, the scaffold biodegrades and the ear now consists of only human cells. These ears are generally made out of the patients’ own cells so that the organ is not rejected by the body. These ears have also been made for children born with underdeveloped ears apart from accident victims.
The Skin: Today, skin grafts are the go-to option for dealing with large wounds and burns. However, this process becomes extremely difficult to carry out when there is a shortage of healthy skin. The need for this painful skin grafting technique can be eliminated using the revolutionizing handheld mobile bioprinter that has been created. This handheld printer can create narrow sheets of skin tissue from bio-ink made of fibrin and collagen in approximately two minutes. This device is portable and can be used directly to administer the wounds so as to actively contribute to the wound healing process. The successful clinical trial of this is yet to be done on humans but, it surely will have a significant impact on burn care once it is done.
The Heart: Although, a crucial organ in the humans, the heart is not as complicated as one would think it to be. It is also one of the easiest to recreate as it does not employ any complex biochemical reactions. It basically acts as a pump. The process of creating a heart starts with a biopsy of the fatty tissues that surround the abdominal organs. The cells in this tissue are separated from the rest of its contents, namely the matrix. These isolated cells are reprogrammed to identify as stem cells, having the ability to differentiate into the heart cells. The matrix is used as a personalized hydrogel bio-ink. The cell and the hydrogel are then used to create the entire heart starting with the patches. In the Modern World cardiovascular diseases is one of the leading causes of death and heart transplantation is the only way to cure them. Therefore, it is extremely important for techniques such as 3-D printing to develop.
Other organs such as the liver, tooth, kidney, and bones are under progressive development. The success of these may lead to a better future with every high-end hospital having a 3-D printer to create these organs readily. Bioprinting is definitely one of the most significant healthcare advancement to look forward to.