So far in 2019, we have seen bioprinting (the production of biomaterials that mimic the function of human tissue) surpass many major hurdles. It continues to move closer to developing solutions to transplant shortages by 3D printing using bio-inks, theoretically enabling the bioprinting of tissues and even full organs in the future.

In May 2019, researchers from Rice University managed to create a hydrogel model of a lung air sac and were able to simulate the oxygenation of blood of the surrounding vessels. Through this, they have provided a proof of principle that the printing of intricate vascular networks is possible, and that, given adequate research and development, fully bioprinted replacement organs could be available in the future.

Newcastle University also showed encouraging progress with the concept recently, with the first 3D printed corneas being synthesised in their labs last year using a bio-ink created from stem cells. The cornea plays a vital role in focusing light onto the retina, so with 15 million people needing transplants worldwide, this breakthrough could have huge implications, especially since there is a worldwide shortage of corneas available for transplant. The “ink” is used to create a scaffolding in under 6 minutes, and stem cells grow around this scaffold to assume the structure of a human cornea. This ground-breaking concept has the potential to solve the worldwide cornea shortage and revolutionise transplants, since the bioprinted structures are identical to human ones and can be reproduced rapidly and accurately using a simple 3D printer.

Researchers in Tel Aviv University were able to print the first cellular human heart with blood vessels using stem cells from a patient to make a bio-ink. They use this to 3D print cardiac patches that match the immunological, cellular, biochemical, and anatomical properties of the patient.They hope to be able to engineer personalised cardiac patches for patients with heart defects using this concept.

As for the production and supply of the biomaterials themselves, Scotland-based Biogelx aims to make “in vitromore in vivo”: their Biogelx synthetic extracellular matrix (ECM) hydrogel mimics the native ECM, providing reproducibility and consistency to 3D cell culture. It is also available as a bio-ink, allowing more complex and intricate 3D models through bioprinting.

Bioprinting still has a long way to go before full organs can be grown for transplant use, but significant progress has already been made. As researcher Nadav Noor from Tel Aviv University said, “I’m not sure it’s going to serve [ourselves] in the next few years, but for our children, I think it’s going to be… [an] amazing opportunity.”


Photo Credit:

Philip Ezze [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

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