3D bioprinting living tissue is a promising new application for engineering implantable biomaterials.
Biomaterials are a new concept to biomedical engineering, and research is opening up the possibility of being able to model and print materials safely implantable in the human body.
Utilising these new methods a team of researchers at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have for the first time been able to 3D print the scaffold of an implantable trachea. This scaffold was printed using standard PLA, which apart from being a widely used 3D printing material is also highly biocompatible and already present in many surgical devices. A bio ink is used which adheres to the scaffold, and then tissue engineering allows for human cartilage to be grown around the PLA, which can be safely implanted into a human patient. Over time, the PLA scaffold breaks down in the body, due to its high biodegradability, leaving only the tracheal section made from cartilage.
Of course this research only demonstrates that 3D printing implantable biomaterials is a possibility, and more work needs to be done before such materials find their way into human patients. However, the development of this prototype is a promising step towards what could potentially be a major medical and surgical breakthrough.
3D bioprinting is a major leap forward not only in 3D printing design and technology, but also opens up whole new areas of research in biomedical engineering. This is important research that could lead to clinical solutions to a wide variety of problems that surgeons have only ever dreamed of using. The elegance of this method is that it utilises standard PLA which is relatively inexpensive and already a widely used material. Engineers around the globe have only just begun to experiment with the application of these 3D printing methods in the field of medicine and promise great advancements in the coming years.