Is it possible to 3D print human organs now?
Few people know this but industrial 3D printing actually existed since 1980s. It was utilized to mainly create manufacturing prototypes. Nowadays, technology has advanced to a level that is highly promising. Although the 3D printing of actual organs is not fully possible, additive manufacturing is likely to change that in the future.
Additive manufacturing does include different technologies like FDM (fused deposition modelling), stereolithography, electron beam sintering and laser sintering. We recently see some manufacturing advances that make additive manufacturing of organs and tissues (commonly referred to as bioprinting) as being close to revolutionizing the industry. However, implementing bioprinted materials brings in legal and technical challenges that make manufacturers be careful. At the moment it is better for many to launch models like the HP Jet Fusion 3D printer since use would be more widespread. Only after 3D printing is more accepted bioprinting can be widely accepted.
The challenges associated with 3D biomaterial printing are many so let us talk about what should be remembered.
Contrary to popular belief, the biggest problem is not the creation of the cartridges. Most people think that the bioprinted material that would be added to the cartridge would need to be alive. While it is obvious that regular printer cartridges are not going to be useful in organ 3D printing, the real problem is that biomaterial has to remain viable after, during and before tissue/organ construction. Biomaterial has to grow and thrive in a special environment. The regular 3D printing process is not now compatible with this. As an example, FDM involves high temperature, which would destroy biomaterial.
Building a supporting structure
In most applications we need a proper support structure that would hold biomaterial in place, allowing the tissue to regenerate and live. This is known as the scaffold. Scaffold materials have to be strong and biocompatible. Materials now used are considered because of a compatibility with cell function or growth. Natural or synthetic materials can be considered but one material is not going to be compatible with all 3D printed organs. Based on exactly what needs to be printed, different materials will be considered.
Delivering biomaterial to the scaffold
This is another big challenge in 3D organ printing. You need to create equipment that is capable of delivering biomaterials into or onto scaffolds. We now have 3D printers that can create muscle structures and that could, in theory, fabricate human scale tissue of all kinds and shapes. However, the technology is still not advanced enough to fully print living organ structures and tissues that could be surgically implanted. It took 10 years for Integrated Tissue And Organ Printing System, the most advanced system at the moment to be developed.
To sum up, 3D printing organs is still a beautiful dream but advantages made in the industry are coming faster than expected. The problems mentioned above are being researched by specialists from all around the world. It is only a matter of time until 3D printed biomaterial can be used for organ development.