The use of 3D printers outside the fields of product engineering and manufacturing and to print off a kidney or another human organ may sound like something out of a science fiction story. But now this science fiction is a reality.
Unlike normal printers, Bioprinters use a "bio-ink" made of living cell mixtures to form human tissue. Basically, the bio-ink is used to build a 3D structure of cells, layer by layer, to form tissue. Organovo, with the help of the Australian company Invetech, was the first company to launch a commercial 3D bioprinter. The company originally intended to sell its printer, which is called the NovoGen MMX bio-printer, to other companies for use.
According to researchers, 3D printing will make organ transplants easier because organs and tissues can be generated on demand. It can also lessen organ rejection among patients because the living cells used in engineering these organs can be harvested from the patient’s body itself. Organovo , a San Diego-based company that focuses on regenerative medicine, is one company using 3D bio-printers to print functional human tissue for medical research and regenerative therapies.
Australian scientists have found a way to grow human body parts using 3D printing technology. Instead of using traditional materials such as plastics or metals however, the team hopes that the printers will be able to create new body parts out of the patient’s own skin cells – a concept that Professor Mark Cook, director of neuroscience, has described as “quite incredible and limitless”. This will become invaluable for doctors because these machines help them do their jobs with a higher degree of precision.
University of Wollongong researchers are leading the way in this area using a 3D bio-plotter, the first of its kind in Australia. This machine is able to use bio-materials to print material in a sterile environment that more accurately represents human tissue. It's possible to print devices and structures that can be implanted in human bodies, and these devices can have cells grown on them so that bodily functions can be replicated on these very tiny devices.
Whilst similar projects are being conducted globally to recreate body parts, the Australian partnership between St. Vincents and ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science have sought government assistance to accelerate proceedings, in order to position Melbourne in the forefront of this area of research.