Hyderabad: Ever since the development of 3D printing technology, there is a real hype and hope surrounding its potential application in printing internal organs of the human body. What if 3D printing technology can be utilised to print an organ by using the patient’s own cells? If that happens, then there is no risk of […]
Hyderabad: Ever since the development of 3D printing technology, there is a real hype and hope surrounding its potential application in printing internal organs of the human body. What if 3D printing technology can be utilised to print an organ by using the patient’s own cells? If that happens, then there is no risk of the patient’s immunity rejecting the organ, which will once and for all solve the issue of a perennial shortage of human organs.
Driven by this promise, in the last few years, employing 3D printing technology to ‘manufacture’ human organs has become a major research area for researchers across the globe. So far, researchers have been successful in 3D printing implants in dentistry, prosthetics and models of organs made-up of synthetic materials. However, none of them has managed to print a functional human organ that can be transplanted easily in patients without the risk of the body rejecting it.
At present, scientists have moved from printing with plastics and metals to building tissues by employing human cells. While there are ongoing clinical trials for 3D printing tissue for ear, skin and even blood vessels, the technology is still at least a decade away from a situation where patients can order organs from a 3D printing kiosk and get a transplant done without any major complications.
3D printing of cornea at LV Prasad
While many top research institutions in the world are in the middle of cutting-edge research on 3D printing of human tissue, back home in Hyderabad, scientists from multiple institutions including LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), CCMB and IIT-Hyderabad have taken the first major step in developing a 3D cornea for the eye. For the first time in India, researchers from the three institutions have successfully 3D-printed an artificial cornea and transplanted it into a rabbit eye. They have developed a
3D-printed cornea from the human donor corneal tissue. Developed indigenously through government and philanthropic funding, the product is completely natural, contains no synthetic components, is free of animal residues and is safe to use. The researchers utilised decellularised corneal tissue matrix and stem cells derived from the human eye to develop a unique biomimetic hydrogel (patent pending) that was used as the background material for the 3D-printed cornea.
Although corneal substitutes are being actively researched throughout the world, these are either animal-based or synthetic. Pig or other animal-based products are unsuitable for India and major parts of the developing world because of issues related to social and religious acceptability. In contrast, these human tissue-based 3D printed corneas are not only safer but are also more affordable for patients with corneal blindness in India, the researchers said.
So how does bio-printing work?
Traditional 3D printers build an object layer by layer while 3D bioprinters utilise human cells and other biomaterials to create a tissue-like structure that has living cells. Some other definitions of 3D bioprinting include the ability to assemble multiple cell types, growth factors and biomaterials in a layer-by-layer fashion to produce bioartificial organs that can imitate natural organs.
Wyss Institute from Harvard has done pioneering work in developing human tissue through 3D bioprinting technology. Principal Investigator and Professor from Wyss Institute, Harvard, Jennifer Lewis on the Wyss website said” “Multidisciplinary research at the Wyss Institute has led to the development of a multi-material 3D bioprinting method that generates vascularized tissues composed of living human cells that are nearly ten-fold thicker than previously engineered tissues and that can sustain their architecture and function for upwards of six weeks”.
While a lot of innovative research is ongoing, difficulties have persisted. A major challenge is that scientists are yet to fully figure out a way to build vasculature through 3D bioprinting technology. The vasculature is important because any human organ or tissue, even if developed through 3D bioprinting, needs constant blood flow to survive. For that to happen, the complex network of blood vessels inside the human organ must also be developed through 3D bioprinting technology, which has remained a challenge.