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3D printer may enable lab-grown body parts


The concept of transplant surgery has been brought closer to reality by the development of a 3D printer by researchers in the US. This may in the future facilitate the printing of tissues and organs, an idea that has been 20 years in development.

The printer works by living cells being held in suspension and used as ink. This is combined with injection nozzles that can follow a CT scan blueprint. The ultimate goal of this study, which has been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, is for bespoke body parts to be able to be grown in a laboratory.

Stem cells that are used in technology such as the printer should ideally be taken from baby teeth. This way, they will not have been subject to deterioration due to age or pollutants. If the stem cells are removed from naturally shed teeth, then this will be both pain-free and non-invasive.

The study has involved using the printer to create human-sized ears, which were placed under the skin of mice. This allowed the researchers to monitor blood supply and the development of cartilage tissue over a two-month period. In the future, the stem cells used in such technology should be a perfect match as the patient can then avoid a lifetime of anti-rejection medication.

Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine Director Anthony Atala stated that the 3D printer is a significant development: “It can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue of any shape. With further development, this technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation.”

The development of the 3D printer has built greater confidence of success within this field. Atala said: “Our results indicate that the bio-ink combination we used, combined with the micro-channels, provides the right environment to keep the cells alive and to support cell and tissue growth.”