A group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said that 3-D printing human tissue is one more step closer to reality with their newly found technique of preventing artificial tissue from collapsing under its own weight.
The lead researcher of the team Adam Feinberg began testing various methods of synthesizing human tissue in 2011. Its only tools were a off-the-shelf 3-D Printer, gelatin packets and a blender.
Feinberg recalls that he had no funding for his research so he had to improvise. But four years later the researcher and his team were able to improve their method of 3-D printing synthetic copies of tissue found in arteries, brains and other organs. And the material they used is neither complicated nor expensive. They used collagen and fibrin, two common proteins found in our bodies.
A research paper on the findings was published this week in the journal Science Advances.
Nevertheless, Feinberg’s team wasn’t able to 3-D print perfectly functioning organs. They were only able to design some structures that can be used as scaffolds on which living tissue can grow.
The research team currently hopes that 3-D printing human tissue is one more step closer to reality, although designing exact replicas of living organs that can be directly transplanted into a human patient may seem a distant dream with today’s technology.
The group’s major advance was finding a way to force the soft 3-D printed structures to hold their shape because collagen and fibrin cannot maintain a certain shape as plastic does, unless they are placed in a mold.
Researchers used a Jello-mold-like structure to 3-D print their tissue replicas. But they didn’t build the replicas directly into the mold. They used a gel to encase the 3-D printed objects. When the objects were completed, the gel could be dissolved into plain water.
Because the process is very simple, other research teams could use it to make even more complex structures.
“It’s a very accessible, versatile method,”
said Tommy Angelini of the University of Florida, who was not involved in the research.
Angelini also said that laboratory-made organs and tissues may ‘eventually happen,’ but more work needs to be done. The method may even help clinicians test different treatments on artificial replicas before testing them on their patients. Big pharmas can test hazardous drugs on the artificial structures. Feinberg explained that the new method could someday help doctors design a patient-specific piece of heart muscle on which heart disease drugs can be tested.
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