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Bioprinting as the Future of Organ Transplants

The demand pressure for organ transplantation has rapidly grown over the past two decades. Worldwide increases in the incidence of end-stage organ failure combined with rising failure in post-transplantation outcomes have resulted in an organ shortage crisis, as the demand for organs vastly outstrips supply. We require a modern scientific solution for this growing problem at this 

stage. Fortunately, Bioprinting is showing a promising lead. 3D Bioprinting can be the response to worldwide organ shortages and the increasing reluctance to test new cosmetic, chemical, and pharmaceutical products on animals. 

 What Is Bioprinting? 

Bioprinting is a form of additive manufacturing that uses cells and biomaterials instead of traditional metals and plastics to create 3D constructs that are functional 3D tissues. These biomaterials are called bioinks, and they mimic the composition of our tissues. Generally, bioink is deposited onto a gel in layers, resulting in a 3D-printed biological structure. 


 How does it work? 

3D Bioprinting works similarly to conventional 3D printing: digital models are transformed into physical three-dimensional objects via layer-by-layer fabrication techniques. 

Bioprinting occurs in three stages: 

  • Pre-bioprinting 

This involves the production of the digital model that will later be printed and the selection of the materials that will be used. Images are usually created with computerized tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, and once finalized, specific cells are isolated, multiplied, and combined with the selected bio-ink. 

  • Bioprinting 

The cell-laded bio-ink is placed into a cartridge, and the necessary printheads for creating the target structure are selected. 

  • Post-bioprinting 

This stage is necessary to ensure the stability of the printed structure and involves providing it with mechanical and chemical stimulation to control cell growth.  

Why is Bio-printing important? 

In India alone, 106,116 are on the national organ transplant list. A new person is added to the list every 9 minutes, and 17 people die daily due to a lack of organ transplants. Bioprinting can have a central role, especially considering the high demand for organ and tissue transplants worldwide. 

The products obtained from bioprinting technologies can mimic both the biological and functional properties of our bodies’ natural-occurring structures and tissues. This can potentially lead to different kinds of applications. Some of the applications for bio-printing are – 

  • Drug development: 

Many of today’s studies rely on living subjects – an inconvenient and expensive method for academic and commercial organizations. Bioprinted tissues can be used in the early stages, providing a more ethical and cost-effective solution. Using bioprinting tissue can help 

researchers determine a drug candidate’s efficacy sooner, enabling them to save money and time. 

  • Artificial organs: 

The organ donation list is so long that patients wait years before getting the needed help. Printing organs could help clinicians keep up with patients or eliminate the list. While this solution is far down the line, it is one of the most impactful possibilities in the field. 

  • Wound healing: 

Many tissue-specific bioinks are available today, enabling researchers to work with artificial skin cells, neurons, hepatocytes, and more. One day, clinicians could use these models for therapeutic procedures like skin grafts, bone bandages for combat wounds, or even plastic surgery. 

While the ultimate goal of 3D Bioprinting is the production of artificial organs for transplantation (as we will see next), the complexity involved in making them function as real organs are enormous, however, scientists today can successfully create biological structures and tissues that imitate natural ones. 

So, instead of Bioprinting fully functional kidneys, researchers can already create structures that chemically behave like kidney tissue. While far from the original goal, these structures can be used to test new drugs without having to rely on real-life patients that could suffer from unexpected side effects. 

Besides the ethical part, drug development with printed materials can make pre-clinical trials of new drugs much more cost-effective, helping them to be validated and reach the market sooner and potentially reducing the need for animal testing. 

 Recent Development 

In April 2019, news outlets worldwide reported the first vascularized 3D printed miniature heart developed by Tel Aviv University‘s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology. The mini-organ was created using patient-specific materials but showed no functionality whatsoever. 

However, just a few months after the Israeli researcher’s breakthrough, the American biotech company BioLife4D announced its own bioprinted heart that was bigger and replicated some functionality found in human hearts. 


Sargam Choudhary

Research Intern at CPRG