Imagine not needing a donor to replace a failing heart or kidney. Hopefully that will be possible in the future as researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are working to make 3-D printing of organs a reality.
3-D printing is a relatively new technology involving a printer stacking thin layers of plastic or metal until a three dimensional object is created. These printers can cost anywhere from $500 to multiple thousands of dollars, with specialized printers fetching around $100,000 — according to Discovery.
Using an off the shelf $1,000 printer and modifying it to print soft materials, the scientists we able to come up with a much cheaper and accessible machine than was previously available.
Associate professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon, Adam Feinburg, explained that one of the problems with soft materials is that they do not hold their own form very well. To counter that issue, the researchers came up with a process of printing the soft material into a supportive gel. The temporary gel supports the soft material until it is finished being created and then the gel can be removed, leaving just the bioprinted structure behind.
The challenge with soft materials — think about something like Jello that we eat — is that they collapse under their own weight when 3-D printed in air. So we developed a method of printing these soft materials inside a support bath material. Essentially, we print one gel inside of another gel, which allows us to accurately position the soft material as it’s being printed, layer by layer.
UPI reports that they call their method FRESH which stands for “Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels.”
Feinburg said that the team is focused specifically on the heart and hope to inject a 3-D printed heart with living cardiac cells and ultimately be able to grow a human heart in the lab.