Kidney fresh from the printer? The hype around Bioprinting
Heart and kidneys from the 3-D printer still sounds like science fiction. It was a blast: a beautiful pink kidney printed from a 3D printer. Anthony Atala 2011 with a 3D bioprinter on the stage of the TED innovation conference in California – in front of the audience and, of course, in front of millions of viewers worldwide who were able to follow the action via youtube. Media worldwide have already proclaimed the end of waiting for donor organs.
But then came the disappointment, when the Director of the US Research Institute Wake Forest for Regenerative Medicine announce: It was not an implantable organ, but only a prototype. He wanted to show how 3D printing with human cells can look like.
“Americans are always very active in marketing research opportunities and results. But full, functional organs from the 3D printer will not be feasible in the next twenty years, “says Dr. Clearly Markus Rimann, researcher at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW).
Bioprinting refers to 3D printing with organic substances. Bioprinting is being tested in research and enables the printing of living cells in the layer-building process (additive manufacturing).
A 3D bio printer is a 3D printer for creating (printing) human or animal tissue (e.g., skin or cells). With the help of the production of stem cells, biodinterpreters enable the extraction of organs. The technology of 3D-Biodrucker is still at the beginning of research.
The Hype around bioprinting
Because the hype surrounding bioprinting is currently huge, any message that researchers around the world are sharing about the subject will be gratefully received by the mass media. Too tempting seems to be the prospect for patients to be able to simply print organs in the future instead of having to wait years for a donor kidney or liver. In the case of a kidney, this would also reduce the cost of the health system, because dialysis costs according to the German Society of Nephrology between 25 000 to 50 000 euros per year and patient.
The challenge to print bloodstreams
In the case of the heart, lungs or kidneys, blood and lymph vessels must also be printed to supply the organ – and nobody can do that today. Only first steps on the way are done: Hydrogels are usually stored between the cells. In simple terms, these can be penetrated by channels by first using a 3D bioprinter to produce a sacrificial structure consisting of gel formers, consisting of, among other things, sugar molecules, which can later be dissolved. These channels can also provide nutrients to the cells in the matrix. The sacrificial structures correspond to the support structures known from traditional 3D printing.
„In ein paar Jahren drucken wir menschliche Organe, wie Nieren.“ Prof. Jennifer Lewis; Harvard University
It might still take years for organs to be succesfully and fully functional printe by a 3D printer. However, there is a great future ahead of opportunities in science when it comes to organ transplants.