The Science of Bioprinting

The Science of Bioprinting

We are getting closer to the day when people will be able to have an exact replica of their own human organ, 3-D printed and implanted to replace a failing organ. This is known as the science of bioprinting and after almost two decades in existence, an entire industry is poised to change medicine as we know it.

Organ Transplant Stats

There are some sobering statistics when it comes to the long list of people who need one or more donated organs. According to the American Transplant Foundation,

  • Another name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 9 minutes.
  • On average, 17 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplant.
  • Organ recipients are selected based primarily on medical need, location and compatibility.
  • In most countries, it is illegal to buy and sell human organs for transplants, but international black markets for organs are growing in response to the increased demand around the world.
  • Liver and kidney disease kills over 96,000 each year, more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
  • Organ disease is a massive public health issue, and organ transplantation can be a lifesaving treatment option. There are nearly as many people dying per year of organ disease as are on the transplant waiting list currently.

As the demand continues to outpace organ availability researchers have been continually looking for a viable workaround. Many attempts using various approaches are helping, but bioprinting just may solve the problem altogether.

Regenerative Medicine

The replacement of human tissue or impaired organs (due to congenital issues, disease or trauma) as opposed to just treating symptoms with pharmaceuticals is known as regenerative medicine.

Currently there are three-forms of regenerative medicine options, which are:

  • Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials – This often uses implanted scaffolding to regenerate damaged tissue with new cells. 
  • Cellular Therapies – Using stem cells collected from blood, fat, bone marrow, dental pulp, skeletal muscle, and fetal cord blood to repair diseased or damaged tissue.
  • Medical Devices and Artificial Organs – Various medical devices mimic organs until an organ transplant can be obtained. One example is ventricular assist devices (VADs) which are able to offer circulatory support as a bridge to something like a heart transplant. In fact, some VADs are being used for long term assistance which is known as ‘destination therapy’.

Bioprinting will soon be added to the list and, in the not-so-distant future, just may be the only option needed to save lives instead of those people dying while waiting for a donor.

The Sci-Fi of Printed Organs

It may sound completely insane and right out of a science fiction movie, but printing human organs is happening. Science Daily reported on new research that developed ‘bioink’, the cellular component needed to print an organ (which is a lung in this case). 

The research comes from a new study published in ‘Advanced Materials’, by scientists at Lund University in Sweden. Science Daily stated that,

“Researchers are looking at ways to increase the amount of lungs available for transplantation. One approach is fabricating lungs in the lab by combining cells with a bioengineered scaffold… The researchers first designed a new bioink (a printable material with cells) for 3D-bioprinting human tissue. The bioink was made by combining two materials: a material derived from seaweed, alginate, and extracellular matrix derived from lung tissue.”

Darcy Wagner, Associate Professor and senior author of the study commented,

“These next generation bioinks also support the maturation of the airway stem cells into multiple cell types found in adult human airways, which means that less cell types need to be printed, simplifying the nozzle numbers needed to print tissue made of multiple cell types,…The development of this new bioink is a significant step forward,”

It is estimate that bioprinting will become a routine medical option by about 2030 to 2040. Although, there is still a long way to go, don’t be surprised when the science of bioprinting saves a life you know or maybe even your own life, as a viable medial option in as little as nine years.