3D Printed Human Tissue Just Got Closer to Reality

Scientists have moved a step closer to creating fully-functioning replacement tissue at the push of a button with the development of a remarkable new bioprinting method.

Developed at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the bioprinting method involves the creation of 3D tissue constructs made up of different interconnected cell types and blood vessels. This represents a major milestone in the creation of artificial tissue.

This is the first time that tissue constructs of this complexity have been produced. Previous attempts to create lab-grown tissue have been limited to very thin slices because scientists have been unable to develop a system to supply the interior cells with oxygen and nutrients or remove carbon dioxide.

The team behind the project, lead by core faculty member Dr Jennifer Lewis, created a custom 3D printer that can print multiple materials together with a very high degree of accuracy. They also created “bio-inks”, which contain key ingredients found in living tissues, and printed these to create the tissue construct.

Although the results are still in their early stages – the team still have work to do to turn the printed blood vessel lining cells into fully-working blood cells – the potential for this technology is significant.

Bioprinting: Building in Blood Vessels from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.

Writing in a release the Wyss Institute website, the Institute said that the development “represents an early but important step toward building fully functional replacements for injured or diseased tissue that can be designed from CAT scan data using computer-aided design (CAD), printed in 3D at the push of a button and used by surgeons to repair or replace damaged tissue.”

Dr Lewis agreed, saying: “This is the foundational step toward creating 3D living tissue.”

In the shorter term, the technology has the potential to be used to assess the safety of medicines, which is what Dr Lewis and her team are now focusing on. “That’s where the immediate potential for impact is,” she explained.

Bioprinting: Building with Bio-Inks from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.

Once the 3D tissue is developed sufficiently it could be used in drug development to establish possible side effects and measure the effectiveness of drug candidates. This could prove revolutionary for the pharmaceutical industry, and is something that many people have seen as a holy grail for drug development – it could reduce the time it takes to bring medicines to market and reduce or even remove the reliance on animal testing.

It could prove invaluable for scientist studying living tissue and how it heals, grows and forms tumours. “Tissue engineers have been waiting for a method like this,” said Wyss Institute founding director Dr Don Ingber.

The Wyss Institute is known for its innovations in biomimetics – the practice of taking inspiration from nature for scientific design – and has previously produced artificial jellyfish, the lung-on-a-chip and swarms of robotic insects.


Image courtesy of the Wyss Institute.


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