Medical science game changer is here – how 3D bioprinting might change lives

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The current century is an era of great inventions. The first decade alone saw the birth of virtual reality, electric cars, 3D printing, and smartphones. Just when people had thought that the potential for new inventions had been exhausted, scientists and innovators have taken it one step further – they created a technology that can theoretically print an entire person – bioprinting.

To begin with, what is bioprinting? According to the Australian Academy of Science, bioprinting is a process similar to 3D printing, in that it prints an object layer by layer according to a certain blueprint (2017). However, instead of printing inorganic products, bioprinting creates cell structures and organs. As a result, it is entirely possible to bioprint a person given the required materials and correct “blueprint”. Bioprinting is a complex process, but it can be explained fairly simply. Bioprinting first takes in a digital file with the model of an object, created by computer software. This is the blueprint. The chosen material specified on the blueprint is loaded onto the bioprinter, and the printer begins its work by printing layers of the desired object. The final form of the object is reached when it cools down to a solid form. The material used to create the object is usually an organic structure with living cells to build blood vessels or skin tissue. This material is called “bio-ink”. As well, some bioprinters include dissolvable gel that acts as glue to allow cells to attach to and grow on. 

There are also many variants of bioprinters, such as laser printing, which guides bio-ink through laser beams, allowing for a more accurate model of the object. There is also microvalve bioprinting where bio-ink is released through the opening and closing of a valve in the printer, as opposed to layering from a printer nozzle. Even though bioprinting is still in its infancy, it already has many uses. For example, the bioprinting process can be used to create artificial bones with material that is both durable and regenerative. These bones can be used for bone grafts and can fully replace bones, which will benefit millions of people around the world. Also, the Wyss Institute at Harvard University has stated that bioprinters can create skin cells to directly place on top of skin wounds such as burns and scratches (2021). 

Apart from its straightforward applications, bioprinting can also be used for drug testing. The current method of testing drugs uses people as subjects. This is often inconvenient, expensive, and not to mention that it is sometimes unethical. The time and resources needed to test new drugs delays production of the drug. With bioprinting, drugs can be safely tested on bioprinted material, making the process much safer and less resource consuming. At the end, for a technology that has only been around for less than 2 decades, bioprinting has already shown many beneficial properties and uses. In the future, one can hope that more uses for bioprinting are discovered and that it becomes accessible to everyone.

References

Wallace, G. (2017, November 23). Printing the future: 3d bioprinters and their uses. Curious. https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/bioprinting.

Papaioannou, T. G., Manolesou, et al. (2019, May). 3D Bioprinting methods and techniques: Applications on artificial blood VESSEL FABRICATION. Acta Cardiologica Sinica. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6533576/.

Lewis, J. (2021, May 28). 3D bioprinting of living tissues. Wyss Institute. https://wyss.harvard.edu/technology/3d-bioprinting/.