Missing an ear or jaw…on your face? No problem. You can now have that 3D printed. Or at least sometime in the near future, according to scientists at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
The team, led by Anthony Atala, unveiled something called Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP). At this point it’s not a completely refined science, but the team was able to show that these 3D printouts were strong enough to survive a transplant in laboratory mice and other animals.
“Cells simply cannot survive without a blood vessel supply that’s smaller than 200 microns [0.07 inches], which is extremely small,” Atala told Gizmodo. “That’s the maximum distance. And that’s not just for printing, that’s nature.” He said it’s the “limiting factor” that has made bioprinting a particularly challenging technological proposition.
What makes these bio 3D prints unique, is that they don’t require blood vessels to survive. Why? Because they’re not made up of human flesh, but are instead composed of a biodegradable plastic-like polymer combined with a water-based gel, with the latter acting as the cells and the former creating the shape.
As of today, the 3D printed tissues have yet to be tested on humans. However, the team is confident that they’ll reach that stage, once they can deem the structures and materials safe for human testing.