Bioprinted Organs Save Lives

Extensive research and efforts are under way to leverage the abilities of 3D printing technology in the area of organ transplantation. All those involved in the medical field, from caregivers to device manufacturers, are keen to be a part of this activity. This is evident from the number of comments on my post in May about the idea of printing organs for transplant.

Jayaraman Kiruthi Vasan

Tweets and posts in social media have been fervently announcing developments that have triggered my interest.

Windpipe stint
At six weeks old, Kaiba was diagnosed with tracheobronchomalacia, a condition where the trachea is weak and can collapse. Researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan developed a 3D-printed splint that lends support to his windpipe while supporting tissue growth in the area. Without this splint, Kaiba seemed to have very little chance of survival. The splint was formed from a biocompatible polymer known as polycaprolactone, which could become a prime choice for tissue engineering. It is gentle on the body and dissolves after giving a couple of years of support.

Say no to immuno-suppressors
An interesting and groundbreaking effort is on to make 3D printed organs with a patient's own cells to be readily accepted by the body, hence avoiding the immune-suppressive drugs used with transplant patients. The Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, a collaboration by the University of Louisville and the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, told USA Today that this daunting task could be achieved in 10 years. Stuart Williams said he and his research team are close to building a bioprinted 3D heart.

How are organs bioprinted?
Software 3D modeling of the tissue/organ is done to determine the exact dimensional coordinates. This model defines the tissue in all three dimensional axes (X, Y, and Z), unlike our home inkjet printer, which prints in two dimensions. Living cells taken from the patient and combined with a biocompatible gel to form a bio-ink. This gel has the ability to promote cell growth. The 3D printer acquires the dimensional data from the software and prints the tissue with this bio-ink. Once the cell growth is complete, the tissue is implanted into the patient.

Though it appears to be simple, bioprinting requires several critical processes involving medical professionals, MDMs, and other stakeholders. The idea of being free from the danger of body rejection and not having to wait for donor organs outweigh any challenges involving cost and other issues.

Though we may find answers as time goes by, some of the questions before us are:

How durable is this printed tissue?

  • What would the healing process be should there be an injury?
  • Can the touching sensation be the same as it is with natural tissue?
  • I am curious about your questions -- and maybe your answers.

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Jayaraman Kiruthi Vasan, Consultant - Electromechanical Systems, Healthcare Technology Innovation Centre, Indian Institute Of Technology, Madras

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