Scientists have already ‘printed’ heart-like valves and a femur from stem cells like those in the umbilical cord. So, what’s next for patients?
Bioprinting is an exciting research area with potential for repairing injuries, and even replacing whole organs affected by damage or disease.
The technology is limited in complexity, viability and speed at the moment but soon scientists might be able to bioprint living tissue that routinely helps doctors save and enhance patients’ lives.
Scientists at EPFL and University Medical Center Utrecht have already developed an optical system that can bioprint complex, highly viable living tissue in “just a few seconds.”
How does bioprinting work?
Volumetric bioprinting, creates tissue by projecting a laser beam through a spinning tube containing stem cell-rich hydrogel. The resulting tissue can be shaped by focusing the laser’s energy on specific locations to solidify them, creating a useful 3D shape within seconds.
What could bioprinted tissues be used for?
The tissues scientist have created so far are just a few inches across. That’s still enough to be “clinically useful,” EPFL said, and has already been used to print heart-like valves, a complex femur part and a meniscus.
While scientists say bioprinting isn’t ready for real-world use, the applications according to engadget, are self-evident. EPFL imagines a new wave of “personalized, functional” organs produced at “unprecedented speed.” This could be helpful for implants and repairs, and might greatly reduce the temptation to use animal testing — you’d just need to produce organs to simulate effects. This might be as much an ethics breakthrough as it is a technical one.