Bioprinting technology has been under way and talked about for some years now. Bioprinting is the term for 3D printing with organic substance. It is used to create human or animal tissue. It can be used for example to treat arthrosis by printing cartilage instead of having to cultivate it in vitro.
The ultimate goal for 3D printing in Life Sciences is to be able to produce organs artificially so that being on a waiting list for a new kidney would not be necessary any more. The organic material for that will be stem cells. This must sound like landing on the moon in the 1950s to outsiders.
In the medical devices industry for example, it is a standard procedure to produce implants with a 3D printer from synthetic material (plastic), metal or ceramics.
So what is status quo for “living implants” and how far do we yet have to go until we’ll be able to transplant a bioprinted kidney, and what is already possible today?
No longer science-fiction
What about “living” implants? There is a lot going on in bioprinting research for living organisms in universities and laboratories around the world.
The endeavour to printing implants that need nutrient supply started with tissue engineering. “Bio-ink” was invented by mixing living cells with nutrients and easy as that: you can print human tissue.
A lot is possible with that today, the underlying printing technology already exists in the medical device industry. Instead of using metal to print a hip implant, you use the “bio-ink” to 3D print layer after layer into the desired shape. E.g. a 3D printed bladder was transplanted successfully. Also, like this, a kidney was actually printed already.
The problem today is that so far there was no way to sustain nutrient supply. The kidney that was printed, simply was not a living thing.
Most recently the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina, USA, tested a new technology and it was a major breakthrough. They managed to include a tiny system of channels that allows nutrients to reach the whole tissue, even if it is big in size (in theory, like a kidney). With this new technology in place, they were able to implant bones, muscular tissue and cartilages into mice which proved to be fit for use after two to several weeks. A big step towards testing such body parts in humans.
2013 another amazing story happened in the US. After suffering a severe birth defect which prevented an infant boy from breathing, a 3D printer produced a bio-sleeve that supported the boy’s bronchus until it was strong enough to function on its own.
From a recruiter’s point of view, it seems that the big players in the Life Sciences industry are not developing technologies like that on their own. Almost no job posts looking for a bioprinting expert.
But who knows how fast that could change. In 2016 a new independent BioPrinting Lab will be opened in the Netherlands. Maybe a new brioprinting hub will be formed and researches will be able to achieve more breakthroughs in a shorter time than expected.
So rest assured, we will keep following developments and are confident to be able to provide a freelance solution, even for a relatively new and highly specialized topic such as bioprinting.
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