Printing the Future: 3D Bioprinting’s Opportunities and Challenges

Jan 21


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Candy Swift_NY

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3D bioprinting is proposed to solve the limitations of organ transplantation, and it's believed that with the effort of scientists bioprinters will definitely be able to serve human beings better.


It is well-known to Marvel fans that 3D bioprinting technology appeared many times in Marvel world. At first,Printing the Future: 3D Bioprinting’s Opportunities and Challenges Articles Helen Cho repaired Hawkeye's wound with a 3D bioprinter, and later directly printed a Super Hero-the Vision, who shine in the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron.

So, can this technology be realized? Some information may help people interested learn more about this advanced technology.

What is 3D bioprinting?

3D bioprinting is a branch of 3D printing, and the difference is the "ink" of bioprinting is composed of active ingredients such as cells and growth factors mixed with biomaterials. Commonly used biomaterials are hydrogels and decellularized extracellular matrix (dECM). Hydrogels contain a large amount of water, which are closer to human, thus are the most biocompatible materials, while dECM provides cells with a suitable growth environment. These kinds of bioink are used to form living tissue layer by layer. The printed tissues and organs are cultured and functionally tested in vitro, and then implanted in the body after they mature.

This technology is proposed to solve the limitations of organ transplantation, such as limited supply, difficulty in matching, and rejection, the emergence of which provides the possibility of solving the series of problems, so that more patients can be treated in time.

What is the current development of 3D bioprinting?

At present, 3D bioprinting has achieved a great breakthrough in creating substitute for bones, corneas, cartilage, skin and even heart.

For example, on November 13, 2019, SEED AWARD 2019 announced that the first prize went to the 3D printed heart project from Israel. Researchers from Tel Aviv University printed the heart with adipose tissue from the body of a volunteer patient. They separate the adipose tissue into cells and non-cellular materials, and the cells are then programmed into pluripotent stem cells, while non-cellular material such as collagen and glycoproteins is made into a hydrogel. After mixing with the hydrogel, the cells differentiated into heart or endothelial cells, and then the shape of the heart and blood vessel structure are outlined by CT scanning technology. Finally, the 3D bioprinter printed the entire heart.

“We just start our exploration of the human body, and still have so much to learn.” Said a scientist of Creative Biolabs, a biotech company skilled at organoids and 3D bioprinting technologies, “the printed heart is a milestone, but it does not have the function of pumping blood, let alone transplant in human bodies.”

What are the difficulties in 3D bioprinting?

Limitations do exist in the current development. Firstly, Bioprinter technology requires increased resolution and speed. Higher resolution will enable better interaction and control in the 3D microenvironment. Speeding up can create opportunities to reach commercially acceptable levels and can increase the size of processes.

Also, biomaterialsare undoubtedly a main limitation of this technology. Today, we are limited to several biocompatible synthetic and natural bio-inks. More methods are under research.

Another fundamental issue is the vasculature of the printed structure. 3D tissues in the body are constantly fed by oxygen and nutrients. If the tissue is constructed using a bioprinter, it also needs a vascular system. The diffusion itself can only reach a thickness of up to 150 microns. Beyond this thickness, the tissue will not develop properly.

Sci-fi has long dreamed of constructing flesh—think of Luke Skywalker's hand or LeeLoo in The Fifth Element—but while 3D bioprinting is happening, reality has not quite caught up to that vision. Bioprinting human tissues and organs still has a long way to go. It’s believed that with the effort of scientists from all over the world, bioprinters will definitely be able to serve human beings better.

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