The holy grail of 3D bioprinting is said to one day be able to produce full-size human organs and tissues to replace reality in transplant surgery and other biomedical applications.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo have taken a significant step to not only achieve this endeavor, but to do it quickly. There, a team of researchers has developed a 3D printing technology that demonstrates the rapid printing of life-size organs and limbs such as a human hand in less than 20 minutes.
The team, led by Ruogang Zhao, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Chi Zhou, Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, developed a 3D printing method based on stereolithography that uses hydrogels to rapidly produce organs. Hydrogels are materials composed primarily of water that are already used to make contact lenses and diapers, as well as other applications.
“Our method enables the rapid printing of centimeter-sized hydrogel models,” which “greatly reduce the deformation of parts and cell damage caused by prolonged exposure to the environmental stresses common with traditional 3D printing processes,” Zhou said in a press release .
How it works
This method is known as rapid hydrogel stereolithography printing (FLOAT), which can be used to create a centimeter-sized, multi-scale solid hydrogel model in minutes. The idea is that this technology can be used to create lifelike tissue samples and organs on demand, which will provide a solution to the shortage of organs available to those in need of transplants, the researchers said.
While printing “large cell-laden hydrogel models for tissue repair and organ transplantation shows promise, 3D bioprinting is limited by the slow printing speed that can affect the part quality and biological activity of the encapsulated cells”. Researchers wrote an abstract for an article about the work that was published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials.
Researchers developed the method by precisely controlling the photopolymerization conditions of the process to create a high-speed, power-driven flow of a hydrogel prepolymer with low suction. “This helps in the continuous replenishment of the prepolymer solution beneath the curing part and the uninterrupted growth of the part,” they wrote.
By controlling the printing process in this way, FLOAT can make parts without the usual stresses and deformations that other 3D printing processes can create, especially in fast-making scenarios, Zhao said.
“The technology we have developed is 10-50 times faster than the industry standard and works with large sample sizes that were previously very difficult to achieve,” he said in a press release.
In addition, this process can be used to print living cells in which vascular or blood vessel networks are embedded. This technology is emerging and is expected to be an integral part of the production of 3D printed human tissues and organs. These networks are part of the interconnecting infrastructure that enables these fabricated organs to function like the original, according to the researchers.
University in Buffalo
The team posted a video showing how the FLOAT fast bioprinting method works. They also filed a provisional patent for the technology and formed a startup company, Float3D, to commercialize it.
Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has been writing on technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, traveling, playing music, doing yoga and cooking. She currently lives in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.