Bioprinting: Scientists Print Live Ears, Muscles, Jawbones

Scientists at the Wake Forest University have used a revolutionary bioprinting technology to create live body parts like ears, muscles, and jawbones in laboratory. These living body parts functioned normally when implanted into animals. The new technology uses a combination of living cells and a special gel to 3D print live body parts. Findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Bioprinting: Scientists Print Live Ears, Muscles, Jawbones

The gel hardens to the consistency of the living tissue

Researchers led by Dr. Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest University Institute for Regenerative Medicine used an integrated tissue-organ printer (ITOP) to fabricate human-scale, stable tissue constructs of any shape. Their bioprinting method involves mixing live cells with a gel that is initially a liquid, but quickly hardens according to the consistency of the living tissue.

The gel layers the cells in with small tunnels that serve as passages for nutrients. These tunnels help feed the cells until blood vessels form to do the job naturally. Researchers obtain the correct shape of a tissue construct from the human body by processing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) data in a design software.

3D bioprinting to be studied in humans

The advancement could make it possible to create custom replacement body parts and organs for anyone. Atala has been working on the technology to bioprint live body parts for over a decade now. In 2006, his team made bladder, the first full organ ever grown, and implanted it into a human. It will take years for the new bioprinting technology to make its way into mainstream medicine due to certain limitations.

The 3D printed ears implanted in mice kept their shape after two months. Muscle cells led to nerve formation and bone implants prompted the formation of blood vessels after about five months. The technology will eventually be studied in humans. The project as partly funded by the US Army to find innovative ways to help soldiers injured in battle.