In the last few years, 3D printing of biocompatible materials, cells and supporting components have opened the door to potentially unlimited applications, including the production of 3D functional living tissues.
3D-printing represents massive opportunity within the health sector, and is already on its way to changing our lives.
For example, in 2013, scientists at Princeton University used 3D-printing tools to create a bionic ear that can hear radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability. The project aimed to explore the feasibility of combining electronics with tissue cells.
The technology driving 3D-printing living cells’ has also already been used for the generation and transplantation of several tissues such as multilayered skin, bone, vascular grafts, heart tissue and cartilaginous structures.
Nevertheless, the technology still has limitations regarding the organs’ structure mimicking as to create an organ, bioengineers need to 3D-print a scaffold.
Until last year, only stiff material printing has been achieved, however in 2017, 3D-bioprinting of living cells has reached a new level thanks to Forte and co-workers from Imperial College of London, using composite hydrogel, enabling to reproduce super soft, squishy and spongy organs like lungs or brain.
In this way, 3D-printed human organs can be tailored to patients and engineered with their own cells. Hopefully, it will allow us to overcome the shortage of organs available for people who need transplant.
Another newly discovered use of 3D-printing living cells in hydrogels is living wearable to monitor environmental chemicals and pollutants as well as changes in pH and temperatures. Living cells respond to chemical stimuli in a much more accurate way than electronics.
Zhao and co-workers from the MIT have used this property to design a new kind of tattoo, composed of living bacteria capable to sense and react to different chemicals or molecular compounds. To do so, they have genetically engineered a range of bacteria to produce fluorescent proteins or secrete chemicals in response to signaling chemicals.
These bacteria are printed into a 3D-network thanks to a bio-ink forming a well-defined hydrogel, enabling chemicals to diffuse through and trigger the bacteria’s signaling molecule production.
These new insights in 3D-printing are one of the ways to support, repair or even the enhance areas of the human body, diffuse drugs and monitor medicine.
Marie, Consultant, Leyton France
Tan et al. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 16293 (2017)
Liu et al. Advanced materials Dec.5 (2017)