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Bioprinting — the 3D printing of tissues, organs, and other body parts — is generally seen as the Holy Grail of 3D printing. Earlier in the month GFR reported on Dr. Benjamin Harrison, who gave a TEDx talk in which he argues that that scientists are on the brink of realizing these lofty goals. It certainly seems that he’s right, especially given the news that Turkish scientists have 3D printed anatomically correct aorta cells.
Sabancı University in Turkey has a 3D Tissue and Organ Printing Lab where, instead of printing cells made from tissue — as is the most conventional technique thus far in bioprinting — they actually used MRI data as the basis of their printed cells. They took an MRI scan of a human aorta and converted it to a CAD design for printing. They cultured fibroblast cells — cells that manufacture tissue, collagen, and other organisms that surround and support cells — and printed those with a hydrogel, a network of absorbent polymer chains with an affinity for water, that they cultured until it formed a usable blood vessel, which took about a week. In other words, they are the first scientists in the world who have used MRI data to print self-supporting live cells from which they could create the aortic tissue. This means they actually use living cells as “bio-ink.” Nothing should surprise me in the world of 3D printing, but damn, that’s impressive.
The group focused on the aorta because it’s the largest and arguably most important artery in the body, and when it gets damaged it’s very difficult to replace. Synthetic plastic vessels exist, but they don’t work perfectly, and when bio-printing masters the art of printing organs, whoever receives them needs to have a functional aorta and blood vessels to supply those organs with oxygen.
This is just one way that 3D printing can help with transplants and organ or tissue rejection. By printing anatomically accurate parts of an organ or tissue that use the patient’s own cells, their body will respond well to the parts and fears of rejection may eventually become a thing of the past. The 3D Tissue and Organ Printing Group at Sabancı University will continue building on this achievement, bio-printing fibroblastic cells as well as smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells, which comprise the lining of blood vessels.