3-D printed organs may become an option for patients on the transplant waiting list, scientists say. A Carnegie Melon University research team has developed a way to utilize a 3-D printer in order to create models of organs out of biological material.
Thoroughly detailed in an article in Science Advances, the research developed expands on using previously captured MRI images of coronary arteries to then print a 3D high-resolution version of the respective images out of soft materials. This is great news for patients waiting on a transplant list for organs such as hearts, arteries, bones and other organs that contain soft tissue.
Thinking outside the box in their usage of both less than common 3-D printers and open source software to operate them, the team was able to bring significant improvements to the developmental process of these new materials.
As Adam Feinberg, the leader of the study, explains in the article, this type of usage of 3-D printing technology helps begin to solve some of the bigger problems professionals have had in working with soft materials. These materials have been difficult to work with in the past as a structure printed using them stood the risk of collapsing in on itself when printed into thin air. However, Feinberg’s figured out a way to offer them much needed accuracy and structure by printing layers of the utilized material inside a support gel that is designed to later melt when reaching body temperature.
Functioning under the printing method dubbed FRESH (Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels), developed by the researchers, this support material is firstly used to construct a container into which the printer later injects layer upon layer of other gels so that it can complete the designs imputed into the computer in the shape of design models.
So far the team has successfully printed femurs, coronary arteries and embryonic hearts while testing the method and has hinted to the intention of focusing on the heart in their future research. They have reportedly constructed a 3-D printed heart and are now exploring ways to insert living cardiac cells into it, as part of an effort to successfully grow a human heart in the laboratory.
Not only is the team pushing the boundaries of what organ donations could become in the not so distant future, it is also making the new information available to everyone in the hopes of further and faster development by releasing the designs and programs they use under an open-source license. Although how long it will take until their research is finalized is still unknown, the promising innovations they have achieved so far seem to anticipate a very interesting future.
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