With the latest 3D printing technology, scientists can now construct actual working bridges on Earth, produce flexible prosthetics for amputees and even manufacture firearms. However, one of their most impressive new achievements may potentially be the innovations in producing organic materials such as human organs. More specifically, 3D printing usage to save lives. It just so happens that researchers are on the ball already.
The team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon has managed to produce models of various human organs and body parts using a hacked 3D printer purchased commercially. Their new research currently published in the journal Science Advances demonstrates that it is more than possible to replicate the heart through this 3D printing process.
“3D printing of various materials has been a common trend in tissue engineering in the last decade, but until now, no one had developed a method for assembling common tissue engineering gels like collagen or fibrin,” said a biomedical engineering graduate student at Carnegie Mellon and lead author of the study, TJ Hinton in a statement.
Since biological materials are soft and fragile, it proved to be quite the challenge for scientists throughout the study. As soft materials tend to collapse under their own weight when printed in air, the soft objects had to be printed inside a material that could support their structure. To solve this dilemma, scientists developed a “bath” of chemicals, a support gel similar to exoskeleton, which was utilized to hold the fragile soft printed structure together as it was formed. Following the printing, the support gel is melted away with heat equivalent to a body temperature (99 degrees) leaving the soft organic material intact.
It’s important to remember that these soft materials are not just plastic copies of biological matter. Instead, they consist of collagens, muscle fibers, miniature brain structures and branching artery patterns made of biological matter which are all produced using this technique. Quite possibly the most impressive aspect is that they use magnetic resonance imaging MRI scans of human coronary arteries and 3D images of embryonic human hearts to 3D print replicas of both. This form of “bioprinting” is being dubbed with the acronym FRESH (Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels.)
Through the printing a series of artery trees with this technique, the greatest achievement by the team is having produced complex biological structures with unprecedented degrees of precisions. Their next step is to inject heart cells into these 3D printed biological tissue structures which basically fills in the printed “scaffolding” with its biological “concrete.”