Researchers in China have been able to successfully print human organs using specialized 3D printers that use living cells instead of plastic.
Researchers at Hangzhou Dianzi University actually went as far as inventing their own 3D printer for the complex task, dubbed the “Regenovo.”
“Xu Mingen, Regenovo's developer, said that it takes the printer under an hour to produce either a mini liver sample or a four to five inch ear cartilage sample. Xu also predicted that fully functional printed organs may be possible within the next ten to twenty years,” stated 3D Printer World.
According to Xu, the Regenovo can print in a sterilized environment with temperatures ranging between 23 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps the biggest triumph of the Regenovo 3D printer is that it can apparently complete its task in a very delicate manner – the cell damage rate is extremely low, with about 90 percent of the printed tissue cells surviving the process. Xu also claims that printed organs have been kept alive in the lab for up to four months.
Xu admits that the science fiction-inspired body part printer is still in its infancy, with much fine-tuning needed to realize the Regenovo’s full potential.
“Before printing you can preview the print path of each layer and determine suitable speed and temperature. But the system is not yet smart enough – sometimes you have to control it manually,” Xu said.
Xu continued: “It's different from traditional 3D printing—to print a cup, we have to fill up the object with our material. But this method doesn't work in cells because a cell contains blood vessels and has tissue space. We have to make sure to spare enough space for them to grow.”
The tiny ears could, in theory, be grafted onto a patient’s living skin tissue. Someday, researchers hope that full-sized livers could be used to cut down on long transplant waiting lists. Even the small printed versions are capable of performing essential functions, such as breaking down toxins, metabolizing, and secreting fluids.
Scientists around the world have been experimenting with 3D printed organs. In May, American doctors at Princeton University printed a “hydrogel and calf cell” ear with an integrated electronic antenna – hoping to add function to form.
Even with simple plastic models, 3D printing is still in its early stages. As the industrial and consumer technology grows in both technological innovation and popularity, so too will the potential medical applications.
Here is a video of Dr. Xu and the Regenovo in action: http://videos.digg.com/post/58107139989/chinese-researchers-used-a-3d-printer-to-print-out