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Using Ink Jet Technology to "Print" Organs and Tissues

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Just recently, researches have successfully “printed” a living blood vessel using a fluid containing a brew of blood-vessel cells and muscle cells. This is an ingenious application of 3D printers — remarkable devices that can create three-dimensional objects by applying multiple layers of a liquid construction material.  

Printing organs and tissues may sound like science fiction. But, Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) laboratory is using modified ink-jet technology to do just that. They have utilized inkjet printing technology to build heart, bone, and blood vessel tissues.

Living tissues are composed of multiple cell types arranged in a very specific order in three-dimensional space. Maintaining this structure is important to ensure that engineered tissue and organs have normal function. 

Inkjet printing technology offers a possible solution to this complex problem because it allows us to precisely arrange multiple cell types and other tissue components into pre-determined sites with high precision. Multiple cells types are placed in the wells of a sterilized ink cartridge and the printer is programmed to arrange these cells in a specific order. 

Printed blood vessels could have tremendous applications in surgery. For instance, a patient awaiting bypass surgery could have blood vessels printed in the days leading up to the procedure — with the vessels made from a small sampling of his or her own cells. The ultimate vision is to print complete organs — even new hearts — as an alternative to transplants. 

For military applications, WFIRM will develop an adapted ink-jet printer to provide on-site "printing" of skin for soldiers with life-threatening burns. Skin cells will be placed in the print cartridge, along with a material to support them, and will be printed directly on the wound. 

Source: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM)

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