3D-printing printing a heart

Handheld device could 3D-print tissues and organs in-situ

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Researchers have developed a handheld bioprinter that could allow for the bioprinting of organs compatible with the human body.

A research team from University of Victoria, Canada, has been able to overcome some of the challenges of bioprinting as a field and developed a device that could be used to 3D-print organs outside of hospitals and research labs. 

If successful, the device could pave the way for a wide variety of applications in regenerative medicine, drug development and testing, and custom orthotics and prosthetics.

The device allows for the 3D-printing of biocompatible structures and tissues directly within the body. In contrast to previous devices of its type, the new bioprinter has the ability to print multiple materials and control the physicochemical properties of printed tissues, which would make it more compatible with the human body.

These printed tissues could substantially improve the lives of patients worldwide through the replacement, repair, or regeneration of damaged tissues and organs. It would also pose a promising solution to challenges such as the lack of organ donors or transplantation-associated risks.

Associate Professor Mohsen Akbari, one of the members of the research team, explained his motivation to advance this research subject. 

“Two decades ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, which eventually led to the removal of her breast," Akbari said. "This affected her well-being considerably. It made me realise that a technology like handheld bioprinting could not only help develop personalised implants for breast reconstruction that match the shape and size of the patient’s tissue, but also be used to create tumour models for the study of breast cancer biology."

A key feature of the handheld device is the presence of multiple bio-ink cartridges, each independently controlled by a pneumatic system.

This feature allows the device operator to have ample control over the printing mixture, making it easier to develop structures compatible with the needs of specific patients. Moreover, the device has a cooling module and a light-emitting diode photo-curing module, which provide additional control.

“In situ bioprinting is suitable for repairing large defects caused by trauma, surgery or cancer, which requires large-scale tissue constructs," Akbari said. "In the long term, this technology can eliminate the need for organ donors, while also lowering the risks associated with transplantation, allowing patients to enjoy longer and healthier lives.”

Another notable potential application of this device is the production of drug delivery systems. An operator could construct scaffolds or structures that release a precise quantity of drugs as well as cells at specific locations within the body, making drugs safer and more efficient. Moreover, the device could also be used to develop custom prosthetics and orthopaedic implants.

The team's research findings were published in a recent study in the journal Biofabrication.

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