US scientists prove feasibility of ‘printing’ replacement tissue

US scientists prove feasibility of ‘printing’ replacement tissue

US scientists prove feasibility of ‘printing’ replacement tissue

Using a sophisticated, custom-designed 3D printer, regenerative medicine scientists have proved that it is feasible to print living tissue structures to replace injured or diseased tissue in patients.

Reporting in Nature Biotechnology, the scientists – from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in the USA – said they printed ear, bone and muscle structures. When implanted in animals, the structures matured into functional tissue and developed a system of blood vessels. Most importantly, these early results indicate that the structures have the right size, strength and function for use in humans.

“This novel tissue and organ printer is an important advance in our quest to make replacement tissue for patients,” said Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) and senior author on the study. “It can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue of any shape. With further development, this technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation.”

Atala’s team aims to implant bioprinted muscle, cartilage and bone in patients in the future.

The precision of 3D-printing makes it a promising method for replicating complex tissues and organs; however, current printers based on jetting, extrusion and laser-induced forward transfer cannot produce structures with sufficient size or strength to implant in the body.

The Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP), developed over a 10-year period by scientists at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, overcomes these challenges. The system deposits both biodegradable, plastic-like materials to form the tissue ‘shape’ and water-based gels that contain the cells. In addition, a strong, temporary outer structure is formed. The printing process does not harm the cells.

A major challenge of tissue engineering is ensuring that implanted structures live long enough to integrate with the body. The Wake Forest Baptist scientists addressed this in two ways. They optimised the water-based ‘ink’ that holds the cells so that it promotes cell health and growth, and they printed a lattice of micro-channels throughout the structures. The channels allow nutrients and oxygen from the body to diffuse into the structures and keep them live while they develop a system of blood vessels.

It has been previously shown that tissue structures without ready-made blood vessels must be smaller than 200 microns (0.007 inches) for cells to survive. In these studies, a baby-sized ear structure (1.5 inches) survived and showed signs of vascularisation at one and two months after implantation.

“Our results indicate that the bio-ink combination we used, combined with the micro-channels, provides the right environment to keep the cells alive and to support cell and tissue growth,” said Atala.

Several proof-of-concept experiments have demonstrated the capabilities of ITOP, including printing of jaw bone fragments using human stem cells, to show construction of a human-sized bone structure. The fragments were the size and shape needed for facial reconstruction. To study the maturation of bioprinted bone in the body, printed segments of skull bone were implanted in rats. After five months, the bioprinted structures had formed vascularised bone tissue. Ongoing studies will measure longer-term outcomes.

Source: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Caption: Credit: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine

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