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Written by: Christophe Pellisier
Written on: March 1st, 2014
Tags: biomedical engineering, health & medicine, material science
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About the Author
Christophe Pellisier is a student studying Biomedical engineering at USC as of 2014.
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Volume XVI Issue I > 3D Printed Organs
The field of tissue engineering has allowed developments in 3D printing organic parts and materials. 3D printing has become a widely popular means of manufacturing over the past decade, combining ease of design on a computer with fast production of custom parts. In regards to tissue engineering, these advantages have staggering implications in terms of their applications, potentially allowing completely new methods of treatment.
The field of tissue engineering has allowed developments in 3D printing organic parts and materials. 3D printing has become a widely popular means of manufacturing over the past decade, combining ease of design on a computer with fast production of custom parts. In regards to tissue engineering, these advantages have staggering implications in terms of their applications, potentially allowing completely new methods of treatment.

Introduction

The process of organ donation and transplant is a long and complicated one, requiring very exact matches between the donor and the recipient. As of August 2013, the national donor waiting list had more than 118,00 individuals waiting matches, a number which grows by approximately 300 people every month [1]. The ability to create organs that are identical matches by using cells derived from these patients would allow doctors and tissue engineers to save many lives. One way to do this is through 3D printing organs, a process that allows doctors to create organs from the intended recipient’s own cells.

Principles of Organic Printing

The science behind 3D printing organs got its start in the wider field of bio- printing, which, originally, closely resembled regular printing. The original bio- printer was, in fact, a modified inkjet printer with an ink cartridge filled with collagen, a protein found in connective tissues. The collagen molecules were deposited in a single layer onto a modified piece of paper, allowing scientists to print proteins in any shape they desired [1]. This basic principle of depositing layers of organic material has been adapted over the years, eventually allowing for 3D printing.
At its core, the process behind printing a 3-dimensional object is the same as printing a single 2-dimensional image. The main difference is that the final object is composed of multiple layers, each stacked on top of one another. To provide the structure for each layer, as well as for the completed organ, a biocompatible scaffold is used in many cases. This scaffold had enough space within it for the implanted cells to grow within and eventually dissolve as mature tissue fills in the blueprint that the scaffold specifies as shown in Fig. 1. In this way, each layer of the organ can be printed on the scaffold, similar to the concept of ink on paper [4].
3ders
Figure 1: Example of the blueprint being created and filled.
Additionally,​ like different colors of ink, each layer is composed of several biological components that will eventually comprise the entire organ. Organs, by definition, are made up of multiple different types of tissue, each containing specific types of cells. Kidneys, for example, contain over 30 unique types of cells, and unless these cells are in their exact positions, the organ will not work [1]. In order to place the cells precisely, the printer contains a different cartridge and delivery needle for each cell type, which can alternate depending on the needs at the time.
All these aspects of the technology represent the current level to which scientists have developed the art of 3D printing organs. Moving forward, there are still many challenges to overcome, as well as technologies we must develop further, in order to reach the goal of printing organs customized for their intended recipients.