3D printing technology has revolutionized the way we think about creating things with complex designs with the simple click of a button. The ability to be able to give a computer a specific set of instructions and hit “print” is appealing in this modern era of instant gratification and convenience. In the regenerative medicine field, there has been a specific interest in using this type of technology to create vital organs for transplants, something that would be extremely helpful to those anxiously waiting for a donor.
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have gotten one step closer to making 3D organ printing a reality by designing a new type of “bioink” which allows small human-sized airways to be 3D-bioprinted using patient cells for the first time. For this project, the researchers focused on the lungs but the proof of concept could be applicable to other types of organs.
Like many other debilitating conditions, there is no cure for chronic lung disease and the only end-stage option for patients is lung transplantation. However, there are not enough donor lungs to meet clinical demand.
The researchers first designed a new type of “bioink”, which is a printable material made with cells. The “bioink” was made by combining materials made from seaweed, alginate, and an extracellular matrix made from lung tissue. The “bioink” is important because it supports the bioprinted material over several stages of its development towards tissue. The researchers used it to 3D-bioprint small human airways containing two types of cells found in human airways.
The team then used a mouse model closely resembling the immunosuppression used in patients undergoing organ transplantation and transplanted the newly created cells inside the mice. What they found was remarkable in that the 3D-printed airways made from the new “bioink” were well-tolerated and supported new blood vessels.
Although more work needs to be done in order to perfect this technique, these results provide a pivotal step forward in one day making bioprinting organs a reality.
In a press release, Dr. Darcy Wagner, senior author of this study, expresses optimism about their findings.
“We hope that further technological improvements of available 3D printers and further ‘bioink’ advances will allow for bioprinting at a higher resolution in order to engineer larger tissues which could be used for transplantation in the future.”
The full results of this study were published in Advanced Materials.