3D bio-printing: A medical revolution?

As medicine advances, technology is playing an ever-increasing role. The development of CT and MRI scanners to see inside patients, pacemakers to keep hearts beating, and prosthetic limbs that interact with the nervous system, have proved how valuable technology can be for our health. Has technology got our backs again, this time with an organ transplant crisis?

There is a severe need for new organs for transplantation around the world. In the last decade, nearly 49,000 people have had to wait for a life-saving organ transplant, in the UK alone. Of those, over 6,000 people have died whilst waiting – all possibly preventable if organs had been available. The issue is, with an ageing population and a safer environment, there are fewer organs available for transplant, and more organ failures requiring a transplant. The vast majority of the demand is for kidneys, with over 5,400 on the current UK waiting list.

Bio-printing of tissues is not exactly new – it has been around since the early 2000s when it was discovered that cells could be sprayed out of printer nozzles without being damaged. Today, the most common method of bio-printing is by using a scaffold of printed biomaterial, which can be made of synthetic and natural polymers and usually dissolves over time. This scaffold can form the main shape of the organ or structure required, from computer modelling and 3D scans. Meanwhile, cells from a human are removed, separated, grown outside the body, and then coated onto the scaffold

structure. The scaffold, complete with living cells, can then be incubated and the cells take the form of the scaffold as it degrades.

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