Bioprinting technology has been stirring a lot of emotions for several years, but unfortunately the widespread idea of what 3D bioprinters are actually able to create is far from reality. The biggest promise of this method is, of course, the creation of fully functional internal organs, ready for implantation – theoretically the most realistic thing to implement, but relatively distant in time. Meanwhile, with the help of 3D printers, you can already implement many innovative projects and applications that in the long run will help humanity reach completely new development opportunities.
The following list presents five areas where 3D bioprinters are currently the most applicable. In some cases they are used for ongoing research and development, in others they are just paving new paths.
1. Hydrogel bioprints for cell culture
Just like traditional 3D printing was created for the needs of rapid prototyping, the first and most common function of bioprinters is currently creating scaffolds from hydrogel materials on which cells will be grown. At present, such applications are primarily of a scientific and research nature – in the future, this method will enable laboratory production of tissues (e.g. skin) or selected organs (e.g. pancreatic islands or the entire pancreas).
The process of automatically filling tubes or microplates with a specified (same or variable) amount of fluid (synthetic or biological). The fluid in the tubes can be the same or mixed from several different species. The process is relatively simple, but extremely effective, considering that the alternative is to carry it out manually by a laboratory technician. Devices dedicated to conducting this type of processes are called bioplotters, but the vast majority of 3D hip printers are also able to do this and are often used for this purpose.
3. Direct bioprinting
It gives the possibility of 3D printing from biological material with live cells, which conditions, among others their optimal development in the whole area of the 3D printed model, due to which they are more similar to naturally formed tissues. The use of additive technology allows the production of complex geometries, which may prove useful in the case of regenerative medicine – e.g. in the reconstruction of the auricle.
The classic procedure for reconstruction of the auricle consists in the collection of cartilage from the rib arch, from which the cartilage similar to the auricle is prepared and stitched under the skin in the place of the missing ear – the effect of the treatment depends primarily on the surgeon’s manual skills, which makes it difficult to talk about the repeatability of effects . If the procedure uses bio-printing technology, then you can get cartilage of the expected shape and structure corresponding to the patient’s other ear – data for the 3D printing process can be collected by scanning or medical imaging tests. A special hydrogel enriched with cells (e.g. stem cells) can be used as the bioprinting material, which will allow the formation of cartilage from the patient’s cells, thus the risk of implant rejection is minimal.
4. Regenerative bone implants
A higher stage than the cartilage bioprinting is the creation of bone implants that will dissolve over time in the patient’s body without any impact on his health, and on the other will stimulate the growth of existing bone tissue. Implants are designed individually for a specific medical case and made of biocompatible material (e.g. PCL), mixed in a predictable and controlled manner with bone powder (DCB). After implantation into the patient’s body, the implant will gradually biodegrade (dissolve) in the body, while stimulating bone tissue to grow (via DCB). Bone tissue will grow around the implant, successively replacing it. Ultimately, the implant will completely disappear and the patient’s natural bone will appear in its place.
5. Implantable carriers of medicines and antibiotics
The biomaterial can be soaked with medicine or an antibiotic in a controlled manner – eg its walls will have different thickness depending on the type of medicine or dose. Such a carrier will be implanted in the patient, where it will biodegrade releasing subsequent doses of the drug – thanks to this it will be possible to design the entire treatment in time and apply the medicine directly to a critical place.