Printing organs on a 3D printer or bioprinting – a promising technology for growing healthy and living organs to replace damaged or missing ones. In addition to a 3D printer, bioprinting requires an organ model, the patient’s cellular material, and an environment where the organ will remain until implantation.
Printed organs are better than prostheses and transplanted body parts. Their capabilities are identical to those of their native ones and they are not rejected by the immune system if they are created from the patient’s DNA. Bioprinting will shorten the time to obtain the desired organ and save the lives of patients who need an immediate transplant.
Printing organs on a 3D printer has already been successfully tested on animals. Scientists at Northwestern University introduced artificial ovaries to sterilized mice, and they gave birth to healthy mice. In the Chinese company Sichuan Revotek, rhesus monkeys were implanted with blood vessels grown from the material of the same monkeys.
Of the human body parts, so far only internal tissues and skin are being printed. Reduced but working copies of ears and noses are created. The first printing of human organs is expected by 2030.
How bioprinting works
Research groups or companies are developing different bioprinting concepts:
- Wireframe. Growth of living cells on an inorganic basis, which disappears with the development of natural connections between cells. The main difficulty is to choose a material that is as elastic or rigid as the organ being replaced. It must quickly degrade so as not to interfere with the strengthening of the extracellular matrix and dissolve without leaving toxic compounds. Suitable for frame printing are hydrogel, titanium, gelatin, synthetic and biopolymers.
- Frameless. Application with ready-made cells on a hydrogel base. While the cells are in the printer, they are cooled and are in thin hydrogel spheroids. When printing, the temperature rises to 36.6 °, the spheroids disperse and the cells gradually themselves form a natural framework – the cellular matrix. This printing is less common than wireframe – it appeared later and is more difficult to reproduce.
- Mimicry. The technology of the future implies the creation of complete copies of organs at once. For her, bioprinting at the molecular level is being developed and in-depth studies of the nature of cells are being carried out.
3D printing of organs
Inkjet. The first devices for bioprinting were inkjet, this method is also used by ordinary printers. They store biological material in cartridges that are sprayed onto a hydrogel substrate like paint on paper. Disadvantages – inaccurate droplet ejection and blockage of the spray nozzle with possible death of cellular material. Inkjet printing organs on a printer is not suitable for viscous materials as they do not spray. The area of application is limited to the restoration of bone, cartilage tissue, muscles and skin. Advantages – low cost and massive reproducibility.
Microextrusion. This method is used in inorganic 3D printing. For printing, a pneumatic supply of material is used in a movable extruder head, which lays down the cells. The more heads, the more accurate and faster the printer works. Disadvantages – the denser the cells fit, the less they survive. At a comparable packing density, more cells die from micro-extrusion printing than inkjet printing. Advantages – suitable for 3D printing of high-density organs, fine-tuning of the material supply due to pressure regulation.
Laser. Widespread in industry, but used in bioprinting. A laser is used to heat glass with a liquid cell substrate. At the point of concentration of the beam, an excess pressure is created, which pushes the cells to the desired area of the substrate. A reflective element is placed between the beam and the glass with biomaterial, which reduces the beam power. Disadvantages – the increased content of metal in the cells from the evaporation of the reflective element. Price. Advantages – controlled down to individual cells, biomaterial packing.
Who offers 3D printing of organs
Bioprinting companies that offer 3D printing of organs or sell bioprinters:
- Organovo – San Diego, USA. Prints and sells liver tissue “ exVive3D “ pharmaceutical companies. In 2009, Organovo together with the Austrian Invetech launched the first mass-produced bioprinting printer – Novogen.
- BioBots Is a startup that presented a low-cost commercial bioprinter at TechCrunch 2013. Today, the Biobot 1 model is available for purchase, Biobot 2 is still in development, but is already presented on the company’s website.
- 3D Bioprinting Solutions – Russia , Moscow. Focused on frameless printing, developed its FABION 3D printer and is working on its own organoprinting technology
- Cyfuse biomedical – Tokyo, Japan. Developed the Regenovo bioprinter, which was used to print leather and successfully grew 2mm vessels.
How much does a 3D bioprinter cost
The average price of a bioprinter is a quarter of a million dollars, but budget models up to $ 10,000 are also available. Most of the printers available for purchase are of the extrusion type and work with wireframe printing.
- 3D Bioplotter – $ 200,000. Envision TEC, Germany.
- Novogen MMX – $ 250.00 Organovo, USA.
- Biobot 1 – $ 10,000 Biobots, USA.
- 3DDiscovery – $ 200,000. RegenHU & Biofactory, Switzerland.
- BioAssemblyBot – $ 160,000 Advanced Solutions, Netherlands.
Supporting a patient with life support devices costs about $ 75 thousand per year. In 10 years, the patient will spend $ 1 million. A printer costs $ 200,000 and about the same is an operation. Considering how much it costs to print organs, an operation using 3D bioprinting is 50% cheaper.
Prospects for bioprinting
3D bioprinting has gone from concept to a working and commercially successful technology. So far, the main clients of bioprinting companies are large pharmaceutical corporations. They speed up drug testing by immediately testing them on printed human tissue.
Expensive bioprinters will not appear in city clinics in 5 years, but some patients are already recovering thanks to 3D printing. The jaw of an 83-year-old woman from Belgium was struck by osteomyelitis. Reconstruction was more expensive and would take longer than removing the diseased jaw and implanting a new, unsealed one. A team of doctors led by Professor Jules Pucan performed the operation and the woman could speak immediately after the operation. The development of bioprinting will lead to medical practice where it is easier to remove a damaged limb and grow a new one than to treat injuries that are now treated without amputation.
The medicine of the distant future minimizes mechanical interference with the body. The scalpel will remain in the past – a swarm of nanorobots will print organs directly inside the body. For 2018, a full-fledged print of a human organ on a printer – a kidney – is scheduled. Then the bronchi, arteries and heart will be unsealed. But even before clinical trials on humans, about 10 years, and mass 3D printing of human organs and body parts will come even later.
Besides doctors, bioprinting is attractive to cosmetologists and plastic surgeons. The desire to stay young and beautiful, and not the treatment of rare and complex diseases, will make 3D printing of human organs massive. Perhaps the people of the future will change organs and appearance as easily as smartphones.