The Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP) 3D printer


Feb 15, 2016

Medical scientists are edging ever closer to being able to 3D print a functioning organ for use in a human patient. A major breakthrough in the field was announced today; one which could help to advance the global pursuit of organ bioprinting. A team of regenerative medicine scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has developed a 3D bioprinter capable of printing living tissue structures such as bones and organs. The scientists have so far printed ear, bone, and muscle structures, conducting successful tests on animals.

According to a research paper for the study published in Nature Biotechnology, the scientists’ Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP) is able to deposit bio-degradable, plastic-like materials which form the outer shell of a tissue structure, as well as hydrogels containing actual human cells. The combination enables the 3D printer, which was developed over a 10-year period, to build a strong external structure for the tissue, which will dissolve once the cells form a solid tissue structure. The process can reportedly take place without damaging the cells.

The Wake Forest scientists who developed the new 3D printer obtained accurate 3D models of human body parts using CT and MRI scans—a procedure which could eventually be replicated to provide tailor-made organs to human patients. The 3D printed organs produced for the study using that scan data were not implanted into humans, but were instead tested on animals—with great success.

Attached to their animal hosts, the 3D printed structures matured into functional tissue, developing a system of blood vessels, indicating that the 3D printed organs could also be used in humans. To ensure that the structures live long enough to integrate with the body, the researchers optimized the cell-containing hydrogels to promote cell growth, also printing a lattice of micro-channels throughout the 3D printed tissue through which oxygen and nutrients can flow.

“This novel tissue and organ printer is an important advance in our quest to make replacement tissue for patients,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) and lead author on the paper. “It can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue of any shape. With further development, this technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation.”

The scientists managed to 3D print a baby-sized ear, which was implanted under the skin of a mouse. The ear survived and showed signs of forming a vascular system at one and two months after implantation. 3D printed muscle tissue was also produced using the ITOP technology, before being implanted in rats. The muscle tissue also survived, showing signs of vascularization after two weeks. “Our results indicate that the bio-ink combination we used, combined with the micro-channels, provides the right environment to keep the cells alive and to support cell and tissue growth,” said Atala.

Anthony Atala, M.D.​

“Future development of the integrated tissue-organ printer is being directed to the production of tissues for human applications, and to the building of more complex tissues and solid organs,” Atala continued. “When printing human tissues and organs, of course, we need to make sure the cells survive, and function is the final test. Our research indicates the feasibility of printing bone, muscle, and cartilage for patients. We will be using similar strategies to print solid organs.”

The advanced bioprinting research project received funding from the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, a federally funded organization which seeks to implement regenerative medicine for battlefield injuries.



Posted in 3D Printer



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