North Carolina Doctors Are Now Printing “Living” Body Parts

wake1By Brianna Acuesta

Doctors at a medical center in North Carolina have begun printing living tissue, including sections of bone, cartilage, and muscle, and have successfully transplanted them into animals.

The goal for researchers is to eventually use the technology to transplant tissues into human patients as a method of repairing damaged areas. More specifically, they hope to repair a variety of areas, such as a damaged jaw, scarred heart muscles, or even a missing ear.

Lead researcher Professor Anthony Atala spoke of the ideal future for this research:

We’d bring the patient in, do the imaging and then we would take the imaging data and transfer it through our software to drive the printer to create a piece of jawbone that would fit precisely in the patient.

Though the tissues functioned normally, the issue at hand is attempting to keep the tissues alive. According to the doctors, the tissues are at risk for oxygen starvation if they are thicker than 0.2 millimeters.

The Integrated Tissue and Organ Printer (ITOP) combines a biodegradable plastic and a water-based gel to construct tissues with micro-channels that act like a sponge so that nutrients can pass through. The plastic provides the structure and the gel contains the cells and encourages growth.

wake2-400x225In the animal trials, the transplants were implanted in the test subjects and the plastic broke down naturally as it was replaced by a natural, structural mix of proteins produced by the cells. Blood vessels and nerves grew into the transplants, making the new tissues a well-integrated addition to the body.

While the team is still struggling with keeping the cells alive, they’re also standing by to see how durable the tissues are.

A professor and surgeon at University College London, Martin Birchall, read the results, which were published in Nature Biotechnology, and is excited and hopeful for this developing technology:

The prospect of printing human tissues and organs for implantation has been a real one for some time, but I confess I did not expect to see such rapid progress. Given the scale of this breakthrough, progress in other fields, the resources available to the researchers at Wake Forest and the imperatives for human health, I think it will be less than a decade before surgeons like me are trialling customized printed organs and tissues. I can’t wait!

There is still much to be done before human trials begin, but this is a promising start for the future of healthcare and those that can benefit from this new procedure.

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