The 3D printers with which we are most familiar today use 3D inks made from plastics and polymers. By melting the materials then reassembling them according to a predetermined multidimensional design, we can quickly and efficiently build highly customized and intricate designs without having to construct specialized manufacturing equipment for the job.
Naturally, the medical research and development community is interested in the technology. Through very careful refinement, it is possible to perform the same tasks that common 3D printers perform using biological material rather than plastics and polymers. Already, Deepti Singh and his team at the Department of Ophthalmology at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA are conducting research to determine how best to assemble tissue and organs safely for use in medicine and surgery.
The Problem with Current 3D Bioprinters
Bioprinting is still in its earliest stages, but currently available technology suffers from three major complications:
- Mass – In laboratories and hospitals where each square foot of space compromises either the maximum patient load or the maximum research load, keeping the footprint of medical technology small is indispensable. Today’s bioprinters are far too bulky for mainstream use.
- Speed – Although any ability to produce usable tissue and organs for patients in need is a step up from the current donor system, the speed of contemporary bioprinters compromises the durability, lifespan, and integrity of tissue and organs produced through their technology.
- Expense – Because printing biological material is a much more complex task than printing plastics, extremely specialized parts and computer technology must be implemented into machines that end up costing medical facilities far more than boosting donation programs.
Without significant access to bioprinting technology, it becomes a unique challenge for medical professionals to justify their use. There is little opportunity to test and monitor 3D bioprinted organs and tissue in real life medical emergencies.
The Solution to Today’s Bioprinting Problems
Accordingly, researchers from the University of Toronto have been working to perfect a hand-held skin printer prepared to quickly heal wounds that are more profound than superficial scratches and cuts. With their printer, it takes only two minutes to deposit tissue on a surface and allow it to settle.
Tests on mice and pigs that had suffered wounds met with success, and there are currently no recorded side effects. The proof of concept is an enormous step in what could be a completely new direction for medical science, but the device and its capabilities must still undergo rigorous research, additional development, and regulatory approval before it is possible to test it on humans.
The portability of the device, however, is remarkable. At about 2 lbs., it could be possible to deploy emergency responders with handheld bioprinting technology to improve the rate of successful rehabilitation and resuscitation. The portable technology could also be adapted to address such common emergency problems as airway obstruction, organ failure, and broken bones and tissue.
By learning more about how 3D printing essential cells into wounds affects healing time and effectiveness, we will be able to further explore what other types of cells we can harness through 3D printing technology. Avomeen Life Sciences has worked with biotech and medical devices as well, and will continue to study the potential of 3D bioprinting. Learn more about our service offerings at the related Industries pages.