Researchers from Wake Forest University are combining living human cells together with a special gel, ‘printing’ living human body parts.
This is the closest – and most advanced – attempt at recreating various human parts like ears, muscles, and jawbones. It builds on previous trials, which included trying to grow cells on a plastic scaffold, or those previous printed organ shapes that were just too flimsy.
The new approach to creating body parts has scientists combining the live cells with a gel that starts as a liquid, but hardens to a useable living tissue. There’re tiny tunnels that transport nutrients throughout, until blood vessels can grow in and do the job naturally. Most of the challenge has been solving that problem, as living body parts are extremely complex. Even a simple structure, like an ear, has several types of cells and they must all be fed by tiny capillaries.
“We are actually printing the scaffolds and the cells together,” said Dr. Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest University Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who led the study team.
“We show that we can grow muscle. We make ears the size of baby ears. We make jawbones the size of human jawbones. We are printing all kinds of things.”
The team uses a revolutionary ‘bioprinting’ tech that they’re growing organs with.
“We present an integrated tissue-organ printer (ITOP) that can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue constructs of any shape. The correct shape of a tissue construct is obtained from a human body by processing computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data in computer-aided design software.”
It’s taken Atala a decade to create these grow-your-own-organs. He’s been making waves for a while; in 2006, his team created the first full organ (bladder) to be transplanted into a human.
He’s on contract with the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine in order to help injured military, though the applications for the artificial organs can, and will, help anyone. And they’ve already started shifting their focus from ears and jaws to more complex livers, lung tissue and kidney tissue.
It’s still years away from human testing, but the idea of creating custom-made organs, made from the cells of the actual recipient, makes for organs that’re the perfect shape and size. It reduces the risk of bodies rejecting foreign organs or tissue, which is the only way to transplant organs currently. Organ patients also need to take drugs from the surgery onward, so the body can tolerate the foreign cells.