A team of regenerative medicine scientists in the US claim they have created a 3D bioprinter which can print living muscle, cartilage and bone to repair battlefield injury.
The report was published in Nature Biotechnology and so far the printed body parts have only been tested in laboratory animals.
However, the researchers said that the structures have the right size, strength and function for use in patients suffering from battlefield injuries.
Their work was funded by the US Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine and, if this works, it would help solve the problem of donor shortages.
Anthony Atala, Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, in North Carolina, and senior author on the study published in Nature Biotechnology, said:
“This novel tissue and organ printer is an important advance in our quest to make replacement tissue for patients. 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.”
How Does the Bioprinter Work?
The Wake Forest team spent a decade developing their new bioprinter, called ITOP (Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System). To print, it uses biodegradable materials to form the shape of the tissue and water-based gels that contain the living cells.
The biggest challenge that the team faced was producing transplant tissue which was good enough to be used by surgeons in theatre.
The team’s solution to this problem was to print a lattice of micro-channels throughout the structures. This allows nutrients and oxygen from the body to diffuse into the structures and keep them live while they develop a system of blood vessels.
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.”
The institute have already made a baby’s ear and observed signs of blood vessel growth after an implant. To do this, the researchers attached the human-sized ears under the skin of mice, to observe blood supply and the formation of cartilage tissue within two months.
Other tests included planting muscle tissue in rats, which lead to nerve formation within two weeks. And in a five month test, bioprinted fragments of skull implanted in rats had formed bone tissue with its own blood supply.
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