3D Printing Body Parts is No Longer Science Fiction

July 8, 2018 – Bioprinting tissue is literally a growth industry. In 3D-printing laboratories across the globe researchers are making human skin, retinas, blood vessels, bronchi, heart valves, and other vital body parts. As bioprinting companies and university laboratories announce the capability of the technology to build organs we are moving quickly towards a point in time when transplanted body parts may become a thing of the past.

We are not there yet but we are at a point where we are getting the details right, printing tissue with blood vessels as small as capillaries, creating microvascular scaffolds where human tissue can grow and survive. This is no easy task since tissue on its own without an adequate blood, oxygen and nutrient supply cannot survive for very long. No more than 30 minutes states Melanie Matheu, CEO, and co-founder of Prellis Biologics, a San Francisco-based bioprinting company.

Prellis has perfected holographic 3D printing with a resolution that is microscopic in size, as small as 0.5 microns (capillaries are 5 to 10 microns in diameter). And the company can do it at speeds up to 1,000 times faster than previous high-resolution bioprinting efforts. States Matheu, “our ultimate goal is to print the entire vascular system of a kidney in 12 hours or less.” 

Another American bioprinting company, United Therapeutics, a company that develops and sells drugs to treat lung diseases, is perfecting a technique to print lungs in “unlimited quantities.” In a June 28, 2018 article appearing in the MIT Technology Review, Antonio Regalado writes about his recent visit to the company’s Manchester, New Hampshire facility, where he was given the opportunity to hold the upper part of a human airway including trachea and two bronchi. The structure had been 3D printed and represents the company’s first step in manufacturing an entire lung “including all 23 descending branches of the airway, the gas-exchanging alveoli, and a delicate network of capillaries.”  How close is the company to its ultimate goal? Martine Rothblatt, CEO, predicts that fully-bioprinted lungs will be on the market by 2030.

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