February 15, 2016
A team at Wake Forest University has used a combination of living cells and a special gel to print out living human body parts — including ears, muscles and jawbones.
It’s an advance on previous attempts, which either involved making a plastic scaffold and then trying to get cells to grow in and on it, or that printed out organ shapes that ended up being too floppy and dying.
The new approach mixes live cells with a gel that starts out as a liquid but quickly hardens to the consistency of living tissue, and layers them in with tiny tunnels that serve as passages for nutrients to feed the cells until blood vessels can grow in and do the job naturally.
“We are actually printing the scaffolds and the cells together,” said Dr. Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest University Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who led the study team.
“We show that we can grow muscle. We make ears the size of baby ears. We make jawbones the size of human jawbones. We are printing all kinds of things,” Atala told NBC News.
Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the team describes both the new ‘bioprinting’ technology and the organs they have been able to grow using it.
“We present an integrated tissue-organ printer (ITOP) that can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue constructs of any shape,” they wrote.
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