An Australian engineering firm has developed a three-dimensional bio-printer that could be used to fabricate organs for patients who need them.
The result of a collaboration between Melbourne-based Invetech and Organovo, a regenerative medicine company based in San Diego, California, the bio-printer is currently capable of growing blood vessels such as arteries, the companies said.
In five years, "printed" arteries could be used for open heart surgery, the companies said, with complex organs possible within 10 years.
So how does the printer work? The machine allows scientists to place cells of almost any type into a desired three-dimensional shape. The printer has two print heads: one for placing human cells, the other for placing a hydrogel, scaffold or support matrix.
The printer can't simply fabricate cells out of thin air, however. A fabricated artery requires arterial cells on hand, for example.
Gizmag quotes Organovo CEO Keith Murphy:
“Researchers can place liver cells on a preformed scaffold, support kidney cells with a co-printed scaffold, or form adjacent layers of epithelial and stromal soft tissue that grow into a mature tooth. Ultimately the idea would be for surgeons to have tissue on demand for various uses, and the best way to do that is get a number of bio-printers into the hands of researchers and give them the ability to make three dimensional tissues on demand, “ said Murphy.
The system is accurate within microns -- necessary to place cells in the proper position -- using a computer-controlled, laser-based calibration system for accuracy in repetition. Manipulated using a software interface, the printer can build a model of the tissue construct before the printer actually begins fabrication.
The companies plan to get the printers into the hands of research institutions who are studying human tissue repair and organ replacement.
Are fabricated organs a long way off? You bet. But the idea that you could simply "Ctrl + P" to print a pancreas is exciting, indeed.