Living With CFTechnologyTransplants

3D Printed Ear, Bone, and Muscle Tissue

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s not: 3D-printed human ear, bone, and muscle tissue have been implanted in lab rats and successfully grew their own blood vessel networks. We’ve been hearing about this for a few years now: different groups of researchers working on 3D-printing processes and materials that can print living human tissue to replace various body parts and organs. It’s already been done with liver tissue, but that’s for use in drug testing and research, not implants.

A team of scientists working in regenerative medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center developed their own 3D printer for making stable human tissue of any shape, to replace injured or diseased tissue. One of the biggest challenges to tissue engineering is getting implanted structures to live long enough while they’re becoming integrated into the body. Funded by the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the research is part of its mission to develop regenerative medicine techniques that can be used for injuries sustained on the battlefield.


3D-printed ear and other tissue implants made with the new Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing (ITOP) 3D printer developed by a team of scientists at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine.
(Source: Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine)


The researchers custom-built a 3D printer, the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing (ITOP) system, since existing 3D printers based on methods such as extrusion or jetting can’t make structures that are big enough, strong enough, and have enough structural integrity to be implanted in humans. It uses clinical imaging data from CT and MRI scans as the computer model of the anatomical defect, and translates that model into a program that directs the printer nozzles’ motions, so they dispense cells in the right locations.

As you can see in this short time-lapse video, the ITOP 3D printer produces hydrogels full of cells, as well as biodegradable polymer materials that form the shape of the desired implant, plus a temporary outer structure.

The water-based ink — the hydrogels that hold the cells — used in the ITOP is optimized to promote cell health and growth. Also, a lattice of micro-channels is printed throughout the implant structures, which let the body’s nutrients and oxygen diffuse into the structures to keep them alive while they are developing their own networks of blood vessels. The ITOP system was developed over a decade by scientists at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

As they describe in an article in Nature Biotechnology, the scientists were successful in printing ear, bone, and muscle structures that, when implanted in animals, grew into functional tissue and developed their own blood vessel systems within two months. Based on these initial results, the team believes the structures they grew are the right size, and have the correct strength and functioning to be used in humans.

Watch Video


Previous post

Financial: Your Questions from the 2015 Survey

Next post

It's Been a Good Life Dad: My Son's Struggle with Cystic Fibrosis

1 Comment

  1. February 25, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    WOW! That is sort of… When 3D printers were first introduced, a cheap one had a million dollar price tag and it barely could print a simple mechanical part. Hundreds or even thousands of support columns had to be printed below the part to keep it from deforming under its own weight.

    My familiarity with sacarrides, polyols an certain sugar molecules that make up the mucus in super bugs like p.A. in their super resistant mucoid form comes from printing bio-scaffolding some fifteen years ago.

    It worked! amazingly well. We could print scaffolding or homes for individual cells to live in, that happened to be shaped like an organ. Although mysteries remain, it was astonishing to see stem cells, or cells that have no special genes turned on, yet, reconnoiter its surroundings and decide it must become a muscle cell or a nerve cell, based on where it is located after moving into the Scaffold Hotel.

    We are watching something like Galileo dismantling a toy spy glass, engineering and building a scientific instrument that changed the world.

    In truth, serious 3D printing has been around for 30 years. An automotive manufacturer can prototype a functional plastic bumper in a day, or less. This is powerful. Some of the 3D printers I have provided for customers can prototype an integrated circuit, or a chip, in about 2 days. Their other choice is to dedicate or tie up a billion dollar chip foundry.

    One of the last projects I was working on was printing cellular scaffolding of animal organs. Stem cells from the subject animal were harvested/created and infiltrated throughout the organ scaffolding. WOW!

    The idea of printing a set of lungs or a pancreas is far more practical than changing our genetics with Orkambi or Kalydeco. Not that one or the other is better, printing organs may be closer to a final triumph than genetic drugs are to a panacea for all. It is exciting and amazingly, it may be sooner than later.

    Thanks for the article,