Research into 3D bio-printing has hit the headlines fairly regularly in recent months for a variety of different applications, including the development of human organs for transplant, replacement body parts (the ear is the most recent) and of course in the context of the ultimate in processed food — meat. Wherever you stand on this issue, it is impossible not to appreciate the advancements and the work that is taking place around this field.
Another team of researchers are working in this area, these at the University of Iowa, within the Center for Computer-aided Design’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology (AMTecH) group. AMTecH undertakes cutting-edge R&D with the goal of advancing and exploring next generation manufacturing technologies, specifically with a dual focus — to design, create, and test — both virtually and physically — a wide variety of electromechanical and biomedical components, systems and processes.
The biomanufacturing programme is headed up by AMTecH co-director, Ibrahim Ozbolat, who is also assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the university. The whole AMTecH group, apart for the two directors (the other being Tim Marler) consists of a researcher, a postdoctoral student, seven graduate students and four undergraduate students.
According to the group at AMTecH, the long-term goal is to be able to produce human organs and external tissue, via printing technology. The vision is that this will be possible — for actual medical applications (as opposed to within research labs), within the next decade. The team is currently researching and refining a number of 3D printing processes required for organ and tissue fabrication.
According to Prof Ozbolat: “One of the most promising research activities is bioprinting a glucose-sensitive pancreatic organ that can be grown in a lab and transplanted anywhere inside the body to regulate the glucose level of blood.”
Furthermore, the multi-arm bio printer being used in the lab is believed to be unique in terms of this application. Both Ozbolat and Howard Chen, a doctoral student in industrial engineering, designed it themselves and Chen built it. And, as they continue to refine the design, they are certain it gives them an advantage over other research in this area because the multiple arms print several materials simulataneously. The key advantage this brings is the ability to save time — crucial in applications of bioprinting. For example when printing a human organ, this approach allows blood vessels to be printed at the same time as tissue-specific cells in between the blood vessels.
It will be absolutely fascinating to see where this goes — as indeed it will with all of the research being carried out in this field. One can only imagine the press coverage as and when the first actual 3D printed organ becomes a reality. But more importantly, the difference it will make to the people that need organ transplants as a matter of life and death.
The video below shows how the research is progessing.
Source: Iowa Now