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OM in the News: Doctors Reveal They Can 3-D Print Body Parts

February 18, 2016

3d earUsing a sophisticated, custom-designed 3-D printer, regenerative medicine scientists at Wake Forest Medical Center have proved that it is feasible to print living tissue structures to replace injured or diseased tissue in patients. The scientists said they printed ear, bone and muscle structures, reports Fortune (Feb. 16, 2016). When implanted in animals, the structures matured into functional tissue and developed a system of blood vessels. Most importantly, these early results indicate that the structures have the right size, strength and function for use in humans.

“This novel tissue and organ printer is an important advance in our quest to make replacement tissue for patients,” said the team’s director. “It can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue of any shape. This technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation.” The school aims to implant bioprinted muscle, cartilage and bone in patients in the future.

Tissue engineering is a science that aims to grow replacement tissues and organs in the laboratory to help solve the shortage of donated tissue available for transplants. The precision of 3-D printing makes it a promising method for replicating the body’s complex tissues and organs. To demonstrate the printing system can generate organized soft tissue structures, printed muscle tissue was implanted in rats. After 2 weeks, the muscle became vascularized and induced nerve formation. And, to show that construction of a human-sized bone structure, jaw bone fragments were printed using human stem cells. The printed segments of skull bone were implanted in rats. After 5 months, the bioprinted structures had formed vascularized bone tissue.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why is this an important advance?
  2. Where else in OM are 3-D printers being used to help society?
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