Innovation

Bioprinting may soon remove organ transplant waitlist

02 September 2014 by Jyoti Angresh

Imagine a world where before an organ transplant surgery, the doctor puts together the exact specifications required and prints out a unique heart or kidney. However far-fetched this may sound, bioprinting may well be the future of organ and body-part replacement, removing the need for organ transplant waiting lists.

Bioprinting is a branch of 3D printing, allowing medical researchers to build an organ by adding material layer-by-layer to build up a three-dimensional shape. A special bio-ink is used, made from cells taken from the patient, which ensures the printed organ is genetically compatible and won't be rejected once it's transplanted into the patient's body.

Scientists are hopeful of creating a new, functioning human heart 10 years from now, using a patient’s own cells and a 3D printer.

A tubular construct demonstrating controlled multi-material bioprinting using different viscous materials. Photo courtesy of NTU Additive Manufacturing Centre.

A tubular construct demonstrating controlled multi-material bioprinting using different viscous materials. Photo courtesy of NTU Additive Manufacturing Centre.

The concept of the bioficial heart is being researched by the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute in Louisville, where researchers are building the first sections of a heart using fat and collagen cells. The project is among the more ambitious in the rapidly growing field of bioprinting which, it is hoped, will transform our understanding of medicine.

“These are on-going efforts that will require many years of further research to reach maturation state,” said Dr Chua Chee Kai, director of Additive Manufacturing Centre at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore.

“We are making progress in terms of material and process development while trying to merge 3D printing with the world of biotechnology,” he added.

The NTU Additive Manufacturing Centre holds the world’s most citations in 3D printing and has already printed tissues of the cornea, skin, heart and oesophagus, but not full organs as yet.

Dr Chua explained that high potential will come from development of suitable bio-ink for different tissue engineering applications and through development of bioprinting strategies to produce tissue parts that can become commercial applications, such as toxicity studies, disease modelling and for diagnostic applications.

In the private sector, companies such as Organovo, which is based in the United States, create tissue on demand for medical research and therapeutic applications. The company has created parts of a liver that have been sent to outside research facilities for testing; the potential applications being that new drugs can be tested on small tissue samples, reducing the need for expensive clinical trials.

In Singapore, startup company Bio3D Technologies produces bioprinters that are able to print with biological and non-biological materials at the same time. It is the first of its kind in the world and potentially allows human cells or proteins to be combined with non-biological materials.

Driven by rapid technological advancements, new applications and falling costs, the 3D printer manufacturing industry has leaped ahead in recent years. According to IBISWorld, revenue from the 3D printer manufacturing industry is expected to grow at an average rate of more than 22 percent annually from 2009 to 2014, totalling US$1.4 billion.

Edited by Claire Slattery and Clement Quek