Developing new ways to create artifical organs

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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BOSTON - When you think of 3D, you think movie and video games, but researchers are using 3D printing to customize medical implants and to grow body parts.  Researchers are now developing three new breakthroughs that could change medicine in the future.

It looks like a beating heart, but it's actually cardiac cells. Bioengineers are using them to create artificial tissues and organs.

"If you have a failing organ, maybe we can replace a portion of the organ with a tissue construct we grow in the lab," explained Mehmet R. Dokmeci, instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

The cells are grown on a hydrogel. By exposing a per-polymer solution to UV light, researchers create a micro-scale, cell loaded building block.

That same team is working on DNA glue that assembles these building blocks to make larger tissues that will someday be used as artificial organs.

"You want to create thicker, larger tissue structures. So by taking these different micro-gel blocks and assembling them together, you can really create thicker bigger tissue structures," Dokmeci said.

The team is also using a 3D printer to create tissue to be used for customized implants. Layer after layer of biomaterials create implantable tissues. The living 3D structure could someday help replace organs specifically designed for their patients.

The team hopes in the next five to ten years the research will become a medical reality.

Additional Information:

3D PRINTING:  Dying patients could someday receive a 3D printed organ made from their own cells rather than wait on long lists for the short supply of organ transplants.  Universities and private companies have already taken the first steps by using 3D printed technology to build tiny chunks of organs. Regenerative medicine has already implanted lab-grown tracheas, skin, and bladders into patients.  In comparison, 3D printing technology offers living cells layer by layer to make replacement skin, body parts, and perhaps eventually organs like livers, hearts, and kidneys.  (Source:

7 USES OF 3D PRINTING IN MEDICINE:  3D printing may seem like science fiction, but real scientists are actually using 3D printing in ways that could revolutionize medicine.

  1. Printing Human Embryonic Stem Cells:  Stem cells can now be printed in the lab.  In a study published Feb. 5th, 2013, in the journal Science, researchers from the University of Edinburgh describe a valve-based cell printer that spits out living human embryonic stem cells.  The cells could be used to create tissue for testing drugs or growing replacement organs.
  2. Printing Blood Vessels & Heart Tissue:  Printing some types is already a reality.  Gabor Forgacs from the University of Missouri in Columbia and colleagues printed blood vessels and sheets of cardiac tissue that "beat" like a real heart.  A group of researchers at the German Fraunhofer Institute has also created blood vessels, by printing artificial biological molecules with a 3D inkjet printer and zapping them into shape with a laser.
  3. Printing Skin:  The last 25 years have seen great advances in creating tissue-engineered skin, which could be used to replace skin damaged from burns, skin diseases, and other causes.  Lothar Koch of the Laser Center Hannover in Germany and colleagues laser-printed skin cells.
  4. Patching a Broken Heart:  Researchers are now developing a "heart patch" made of 3D printed cells that could repair damaged hearts.  Researchers at the University of Rostock, Germany, created a patch using a computerized laser-based printing technique. They implanted patches made of human cells in the hearts of rats that had suffered heart attacks; the rats' hearts that were patched showed improvement in function.
  5. Printing Cartilage & Bone:  In 2011, the same group from Germany that made the skin used laser printing to create grafts from stem cells that could develop into bone and cartilage.
  6. Studying Cancer with Printed Cells: Printing cells could lead to better ways of studying diseases in the lab and then developing therapies.  For example, researchers used an automated system to print ovarian cancer cells onto a gel in a lab dish where the cells could be grown and studied.
  7. Printing Organs:  Ten years ago, Anthony Atala, who directs the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, took stem cells from a patient with a failing bladder, grew a new bladder, and transplanted it into the patient. His more recent efforts have focused on printing organs, and he has since demonstrated an early experiment to print a transplantable kidney. (Source:

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