Transplants could well become a thing of tomorrow, as 3D printing technology learns to bioprint models of hearts, bones, arteries and brain using biological materials. Adam Feinberg, an associate professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and his team at the Regenerative Biomaterials and Therapeutics Group have published their study and progress in the field in the journal Science Advances.
While bioprinting has been increasingly popular for some years now, most 3-D bioprinters cost over $100,000 and require special expertise to operate. This is one of the reasons why bioprinting has not been adopted by several hospitals and countries. Feinberg’s group, however, has been able to implement their technique on a range of consumer-level 3-D printers which cost less than $1,000 and are suitable to be used by small companies and clinics as well. All thanks to the use of open-source hardware and software. The team has also managed to overcome the challenges faced with printing on soft materials like gels. The difficulty in printing on soft materials has been one of the major problems faced by bioprinters which have been trying for a long time to shift from plastic and metal to materials that could be used to print human body parts.
The biggest challenge in using soft materials is the fact that 3D printing traditionally worked by depositing material layer-by-layer to build the final object. Printing each new layer required sturdy support from the previous layer. By using MRI images of coronary arteries and 3-D images of embryonic hearts, Feinberg and his team have managed to produce 3-D bioprints of good resolution and quality out of very soft materials like collagens, alginates and fibrins. If all goes well then the next time you have a cardiac problem, your doctor will be able to print out a new heart for you.