Bioprinting

Bioprinting refers to a process of 3D printing using biological matter as ink. Californian based company Orgonovo are the pioneers behind this new technology and are the producers of the first commercial bio printer, the Orgonovo Novogen MMX.

It is an emerging technology with organisations racing to develop uses for it to replace or aid older practices. It has the potential to create a new way of delivering drugs to the body and could even be used to replace damaged human tissue. Like other 3D printing processes it is still in its infancy.

Bioprinters have multiple nozzles able to extrude different materials simultaneously. They work by printing single layers of cells within a paper like scaffold, which keeps the cells in place. Another scaffold layer is placed on top of that with another layer of cells. Once completed the tissue construct is moved into what is called a bioreactor where the cells react with one another, fusing together as they do by nature. Over the course of a few days the scaffold layer will have dissolved away and the final biological material should be anatomically correct and performing its metabolic properties.

BioprintingTeams at Orgonovo have been working on printing ‘mini-livers’ for use in drug research. These livers are 0.5mm deep and 4mm across and are capable of performing the majority of functions a real liver can, the tissue lives around five days if not longer. These ‘mini-livers’ have been a great success and teams at Orgonovo hope to be able to replicate a full size liver in the future for transplants. This however may be a decade away, the construction of large networks of blood vessels that would sustain the liver are currently out of reach of the technology.

Current spending on research and development within pharmaceuticals stands at approximately $70 billion dollars a year while fewer and fewer drugs end up making it to the market. Failure of a new drug can result in millions of dollars being lost, stalling progress in other areas. Bioprinting aims to remedy some of these issues by making testing easier, cheaper and more accurate. Printed biological matter can be used for testing the effects of new drugs instead of animals, which aside from ethical arguments often doesn’t translate accurately for humans. It will also be used to study the effects of cancer and different viruses, an opportunity that could lead to faster research into ways to combat the effects of these deadly mutations.

Another benefit of Bioprinting is as it develops into the realms of printing transplantable organs the risk of the body rejecting the transplanted organ will be massively reduced. The cells would have been taken from the recipient and therefore the body is more likely to accept the organ. It will also reduce the need for immunosuppressive drugs that can have debilitating side effects.

Recently Autodesk, a leader in CAD software teamed up with Organovo to develop software specifically for printing biological matter, a big step for Bioprinting.

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