3D printed jewelry, furniture or even houses: all of it amazed us massively during last months. However, the technique really becomes interesting when we’re talking about printing actual organs. Will we even be able to copy hearts, or even entire people, using a 3D printer? Well, despite we really don’t believe it will ever be a possibility to 3D print an entire human, recent developments do contribute to the success of so-called bioprinting.
You might have heard about bioprinting already, as this is something we’ve been writing about a lot, recently. In case you’re not a frequent visitor of the beloved website 3dprinting.com – oh, yes – we’ll explain you a little more about it: researchers currently try to 3D print organs, such as livers and hearts. Yes, there’s some creepy elements about it, but on the other hand: if we could one day be able to actually 3D print organs, then we wouldn’t even need donors anymore. In other words: it could save lives.
Until this week, however, the problem has been that it was not possible to 3D print a vascular network and organs need such networks to “breath” and work properly. Earlier this month, we already published a story on 3D printing blood vessels, something which Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital is now able to do. A team of Harvard, Stanford, MIT and the University of Sydney has now perfected such a technique, making it possible to 3D print vascular networks.
In order to do so, the team used a complex bioprinter, which fabricated interconnected tiny fibers as a mold, representing the highly complex vascular structure of an organ. The fibers were then coated with cells and proteins. After being exposed to light, they hardened, after which the mold could be removed. What remained was the complex network of blood vessels, around which an entire organ could be built.
And of course, there was a press release, in which one of the leaders of the study – Dr Luiz Bertassoni – further clarified the importance of their findings:
“While recreating little parts of tissues in the lab is something that we have already been able to do, the possibility of printing three-dimensional tissues with functional blood capillaries in the blink of an eye is a game changer. Of course, simplified regenerative materials have long been available, but true regeneration of complex and functional organs is what doctors really want and patients really need, and this is the objective of our work.”
Yes, we understand: highly technical, so what does this actually mean for you and me? Well, scientists hope this can quicken up the process of bioprinting. This could lead to a world where it will be easier to get an organ transplant – which is important, as the need for such transplants has been growing. It could, however, take us many more years before we will actually be able to 3D print functional organs for humans, but these developments made the world come closer to that point.
Image credits: Eckhard Völcker (upper image), John Fino (Sketchfab model).