The advent of three-dimensional (3D) printing has generated a swell of interest in artificial organs meant to replace, or even enhance, human machinery. Printed organs, such as a prototype outer ear developed by researchers at Princeton University in New Jersey and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, was on the agenda at the Inside 3D Printing conference in New York on 15–17 April.
The ear is printed from a range of materials: a hydrogel to form an ear-shaped scaffold, cells that will grow to form cartilage, and silver nanoparticles to form an antenna.
Printed body parts brought in US$537 million last year, up about 30% on the previous year, says Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, a business consultancy firm in Fort Collins, Colorado, that specializes in 3D printing.
Scientists are looking ahead to radical emerging technologies that use live cells as ‘ink’, assembling them layer-by-layer into rudimentary tissues, says Jennifer Lewis, a bioengineer at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bioprinting firm Organovo of San Diego, California, already sells such tissues to researchers aiming to test experimental drugs for toxicity to liver cells. The company’s next step will be to provide printed tissue patches to repair damaged livers in humans, says Organovo’s chief executive, Keith Murphy.
Printed structures made of hard metal or polymers are already on the market for people in need of an artificial hip, finger bone or facial reconstruction. This skull implant (grey) made by Oxford Performance Materials of South Windsor, Connecticut, was approved by US regulators in 2013. It is made of a polymer meant to encourage bone growth, to aid integration of the implant into the surrounding skeleton. The company also sells implants for facial reconstruction and for replacing small bones in the feet and hands. Oxford Performance Materials
Utilizing the most advanced materials and technology, the Oxford Performance Materials OsteoFab [TM] process can reproduce exactly what you design, or exactly what nature intended by “printing” medical implants derived directly from a CT Scan or MRI file for a perfect anatomical fit with our own OXPEKK®-IG polymers.
This Oxford Performance Materials technology allows them to go beyond merely replicating shapes: they also have the ability to meet specific performance requirements as anatomically applicable. Through their proprietary “Coherent Implantology Process”, fit, form and bio-function are digitally calculated, constructed, and then produced.
The dream of bioprinting is to print organs that can be used for transplant. At the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, researchers are developing a 3D-printed kidney. The project is in its early stages and the kidney is far from functional. Some are doubtful that researchers will ever be able to print such a complex organ. A more achievable near-term goal, they say, is to print sheets of kidney tissue that could be grafted onto existing kidneys. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
SOURCES – Nature, Youtube, Oxford Performance Materials