Doctors Are Printing 3D Body Parts Now


Researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine just completed an invention which took 10 years to create.

The invention is a 3D bioprinter called the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System, or ITOP. The printer creates tissues like the cartilage, and turns them into complex shapes like bones, growing muscles etc.

The finished product are usually a combination of biodegradable plastic, polycaprolactone and human cells bound up in water-based gel. The plastic acts as a connection to keep the printed tissue strong. This is what makes it longer lasting.When the tissues were implanted into animals, they survived indefinitely.

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“This is very important. This process allows the tissues we print to keep the structural integrity necessary to implant inside the body,”Anthony Atala, lead researcher of the invention said. “Basically we’re printing a thread of hard [plastic], then a bead of these soft cells intermittently. So: hard, soft, hard, soft.”

3D printers aren’t new in regenerative medicine, as The ITOP isn’t the first 3D printer. Nonetheless it is the first with the ability to print relatively large sizes compared to previous bioprinters. The reason being that the ITOP creates a microscopic feature that are like a sponge in the tissues that allows blood and nutrients to flow into them.

“This is the first [bioprinter] that can print tissue at the large scales relevant for human implantation,

“Basically, once we’ve printed a structure, we can keep it alive for several weeks before we implant it. Now the next step is to test these [printed tissues] for safety so we can implant them in the future in patients.” Anthony Atala said.

The scientists have implanted the tissues in animals but not human beings. The team are now dedicating their time to testing the long term safety of the 3D printer, in a bid to combat issues that might develop as a result of implantation of developing human tissues.

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