Future Solutions 3D Bioprinting to Revolutionize the Healthcare Industry
In the healthcare industry, 3D bioprinting is being used to develop human tissues for the purpose of research and development as well as regenerative medicine but now there is also a possibility that fully functional artificial organs can be printed, a move which if proved successful can revolutionize the industry like never before.
Additive manufacturing or 3D printing technology has transformed the manufacturing industry as new materials and even metals can be used to develop complex, sturdy, lightweight functional parts quickly as compared to the more traditional method of machining. In this technique, 3D parts are systematically created layer by layer. In the healthcare sector, it has also been used to create hard physical replicas of anatomical structures to train future doctors. Customized medicines for patients with special needs and even prototypes of medical devices are being produced by this technology.
What is 3D bioprinting?
3D bioprinting is another technology that functions on the same principles of additive manufacturing but the only difference is that instead of utilizing materials or metals for deposition, it can use any of the following: live cells, hydrogels, extracellular matrices and biomaterials to produce complex tissues and organs which proves beneficial for drug discovery and development, and regenerative medicine.
So, how can one bio-print tissues or organs? There are many technologies that can be used – syringe, pneumatic extrusion, inkjet, laser and so on; however, most bioprinters available in the market today are based on a syringe/pressure-based extrusion process. In the syringe-based extrusion technique, live cells are extracted from patients and soft biomaterials are used to grow the cells artificially in an incubator at a temperature that matches the human body following which it is placed inside the syringe of special printers which then deposits this mixture layer by layer to create tissues or organs.
Advantages of 3D bioprinting
Drug discovery and development: The pharma industry is always on the lookout for innovative methods and technologies which can help them to reduce costs, develop drugs faster and also optimize their drug discovery and development process. 3D bioprinting provides just that as this technology is capable of producing customized human tissues in a shorter period of time which helps to accelerate the preclinical drug screening process, thus leading to novel therapies.
In other words, testing on human tissues in the preclinical stage may remove the need for testing it on animals and also provides insights into how a drug will react in the human body which helps pharma companies to shortlist and focus on the candidate that has the most potential to be accepted as an FDA-approved drug, thus saving costs. For instance, the US-based biotechnology firm Organovo has developed a human liver tissue in 2014 from human cells for preclinical drug discovery testing which has helped pharma companies to accelerate their R&D process as well as proved useful for toxicity discovery.
Regenerative medicine: Regenerative medicine refers to regenerating or replacing cells, tissues or organs. The US-based firm Envisiontec has introduced a 3D bio-printer which is being used for bone regeneration research. Similarly, 3D bioprinting can also help in the creation of artificial human organs that mimic their natural counterparts. Yes, you read that right. A team of researchers led by Adam Feinberg have recently developed the first 3D model of a human heart by using this technology. Utilizing the Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (Fresh) technique, a new technique introduced by Feinberg, the soft model was printed on a special printer. Since this model mimics the natural heart, it can assist medical experts to plan and practice their heart surgeries.
This milestone has also encouraged researchers to use this technology for organ transplantation i.e. to 3D bio-print organs for transplantation. However, this is not an easy task to achieve but since the cultured cells are mostly taken from the patient for bioprinting the chances of the body rejecting the organ maybe comparatively less than transplanting another person’s organ with compatible tissue cells into the patient’s body. In this background, Organovo has announced that it aims to create partial human livers for transplant in the near future with the help of 3D bioprinting. If successful, it can revolutionize the healthcare sector as it will put an end to the waiting period for all those patients looking for the right organ and the right donor.
3D bioprinters in the market
There are a number of solutions available in the market today including Envisiontec’s ‘3D bioplotter’ which can be found in three different series. The technology is being used by the industry for R&D and has already developed hyperelastic bones, ovary implants as well as placenta models. As mentioned above, regenerative medicine is also being explored with this solution.
Organovo’s Novogen MMX bioprinter uses the technology to 3D print liver cells, kidney tissue as well as skin tissue and then sells these tissues to leading industry players for testing their drugs. It is interesting to note that the company’s in-house 3D printer is not for sale.
Capable of carrying out multiple processes such as tissue engineering, materials science, regenerative medicine, disease modelling, 3D culture and drug delivery, the Allevi 3 bioprinter is equipped with three extruders which helps to print multi-cell tissues. It also prints a wide range of bioinks.
All these technologies as well as many more are enabling industry players to adopt 3D bioprinting in innovate ways and it’s just a matter of time before the industry achieves a breakthrough in the area of organ transplantation. We have our fingers crossed.