The Holy Grail of 3D printing, for the medical industry at least, is the ability to 3D print living tissues and living structures.
Such a capability would advance the fields of plastic and reconstructive surgery considerably, however we are still a fair way away from being able to do that. The technology is certainly almost there – and it’s getting better – but the formula isn’t; we still do not know how to develop 3D printed tissue, or more specifically, living tissue that will survive as healthy tissue indefinitely – or even survive the delicate procedure to attach it.
This challenge needs to be overcome before patients who have lost parts of their body can benefit from 3D printing. Which leads us on to plastic surgeons at the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery in Swansea’s Morriston Hospital, who are working with engineers and scientists to develop 3D printed tissue that could one day revolutionise patient care.
Human trials could begin in just three or four years
The plastic surgeons are aiming to be among the first in the world to start using 3D printed living tissue on humans within three years. To do so, they aren’t using your standard desktop 3D printers – they are using custom made 3D bio-printers developed by Dr Daniel Thomas, an engineer at the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating.
The 3D printed tissue will be made from human cells for the first time. The process involves growing human cells in an incubator and then mixing them with a resin to print jelly-like tissue. This tissue, so the surgeon’s hope, will be strong enough to survive the surgical procedure to attach it, and be of such a structure that it is accepted by the human body and grown into healthy, living tissue over time.
Consultant plastic surgeon Professor Iain Whitaker of Swansea’s Medical School, who is involved with the project directly, said: “We want to try and help people who were born with defects, or who have lost parts of their ear or nose as a result of trauma or cancer.
We are using human cells, growing them up, to combine them with a printable material, 3D print them and implant them into the human body. Lots of people have heard about 3D printing, which is becoming more mainstream, and you can actually buy 3D printers on the internet to print plastics or metals.
But we are working on the next stage – 3-D bio printing – which is printing living tissues, living structures.”
The team are aiming to commence human trials within three years; but they have a lot of work to do to meet that target. Either way, their research will help to advance 3D printing use in the medical industry and could one day pave the way for some very sci-fi treatments, including complete limb replacement.
Source: South Wales Evening Post