Custom-made, living body parts that function normally when implanted into animals have been 3D-printed. This significant advance for regenerative medicine raises the hope of using living tissues to repair the body.
The team of scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre developed a new technique that 3D-prints a tissue riddled with micro-channels, rather like a sponge, to allow nutrients to penetrate the tissue. The Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System – or ITOP – combines a bio-degradeable plastic which gives the structure and a water-based gel which contains the cells and encourages them to grow. When the structures were implanted into animals, the plastic broke down as it was replaced by a natural, structural “matrix” of proteins produced by the cells. Meanwhile, blood vessels and nerves grew into the implants.
Prof Martin Birchall, a surgeon at University College London, said the prospect of printing human tissues and organs for implantation has been a real one for some time but confessed that he did not expect to see such rapid progress. The question is when will we see our first patients with a 3-D printed knee joint or ligament reconstruction?