Need a new kidney? Forget waiting for a transplant - why not print one? That's the idea behind the new 3D bio-printer by Organovo and Invetech:
Organovo’s 3D bio-printer works in a similar way to some rapid-prototyping machines used in industry to make parts and mechanically functioning models. These work like inkjet printers, but with a third dimension. Such printers deposit droplets of polymer which fuse together to form a structure. With each pass of the printing heads, the base on which the object is being made moves down a notch. In this way, little by little, the object takes shape. Voids in the structure and complex shapes are supported by printing a “scaffold” of water-soluble material. Once the object is complete, the scaffold is washed away.
Researchers have found that something similar can be done with biological materials. When small clusters of cells are placed next to each other they flow together, fuse and organise themselves. Various techniques are being explored to condition the cells to mature into functioning body parts—for example, “exercising” incipient muscles using small machines.
The Economist has the details: Link (Illustration: David Simonds)