One of the most promising areas of regenerative medicine is the nascent field of bioprinting: the manufacture of human organs from scratch. It involves building biological material in laboratories into functional tissue for implantation, in a method not dissimilar to the 3D printing of objects in plastic, layer by layer.
Traditional donated transplants leave recipients needing to take drugs to suppress their immune system, which would otherwise reject the unfamiliar cells. Amid a shortage of donors, artificial organs made from a patient’s own cells are seen as the perfect solution and would reduce the risk of rejection, since the tissue is not foreign. Academics and start-up companies in this branch of bioengineering believe that replacement skin, livers and bladders could become a clinical reality in the next couple of decades.
A breakthrough came in April this year when a team of scientists from Israel unveiled what they said was the first 3D-printed heart, made from human tissue. About the size of a cherry, it had blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.