3D printing technology is used to print out hearts. TUCHONG
Three-dimensional printing, a technology that creates objects layer by layer, has revolutionized the way we make things. Recently, a group of Chinese scientists took things a step further by using this technology to create realistic replicas of human organs.
Previously, it was challenging to create a single material that could print different human organs due to their complexity. The research team from the Lanzhou Institute of Chemical Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences started by using hydrogel, a soft gel-like material as the main ingredient.
Human organs have various textures, with our brains being the softest. To replicate the hardness of materials like bone, the researchers added metallic elements to the hydrogel and adjusted their ratio to create the texture of each organ. However, the structure inside human organs is also incredibly complex with many interweaving channels. To make sure the printing results are correct, the team used light-curing technology in the 3D printing process. A special lamp was placed under the printing machine, causing the gel to become solid right after it was printed.
According to the team’s paper published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, they were able to produce organ models including the brain, lungs, and intestines.
These 3D printed organ models are essential for research purposes, such as testing medical equipment and demonstrating surgeries. Compared to live organs and animal models, they are also ethically acceptable since they are printed artificially. They can help researchers develop new treatments more efficiently, due to their lower relative cost, commented the Alliance of Advanced Biomedical Engineering website.
Hydrogel materials, however, usually cannot be used as transplants, because human cells are likely to recognize them as “enemies” and start to fight against them. What scientists have been exploring in “printing” the organs is bioprinting: using 3D printing technology to build up various types of cells and materials layer by layer. This way, the printed product will be more acceptable to grow inside the human body. However, this method is still developing, and experts are hoping it will be used in the medical field within a decade, according to CNN.