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3-D printers can now print soft organs and tissues

“Create Another Little Piece of my Heart Now, Baby”: Scientists can now 3D Print Soft Organs

By Caroline Campbell on Jun 14, 2017
3-D printing is taking the technological scene by storm. It is used for printing merchandise, creating art and even formulating car parts, and now the technology is not missing a beat as it leaps into the medical field.

The technology emerged in the 1980’s and was patented by Hideo Kodama in Japan. The process is much like putting together a loaf of bread, slice by slice. It takes a 3-dimensional object from a computer and breaks the object down into tiny slices. Then, the printer prints each slice and begins to layer them on top of each other until an object is formed. It was not until the early 2000’s that 3-D printing was introduced to the commercial sector and it instantly took to the medical field. Since then, scientists have been printing cost-efficient prosthetics, medical models and equipment.

“Medical use of 3-D printing [is] revolutionizing health care,” explained Dr. A. Swarnambiga, post-doctoral researcher at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. “[It] appears to be relevant technology for the orthodontic industry, cranium replacement, knee replacement and prosthetics development.”

Now scientists at Carnegie Mellon have taken 3-D printing to the “softer” side of medicine and are creating models of hearts and brains using blended collagen. They call this new approach/soluble, FRESH or freeform reversible embedding of suspended hydrogels. Through using the slurry of collegian, they can print out soft structures without them melting with pristine accuracy.



Other scientists are following suit and printing heart valves and other organs. With over 115,000 people waiting for an organ transplant in the U.S., many are saying this is the technology that will be the way of the future when it comes to replacing or fixing damaged organs. The race is on to see how researchers can take the soft printed organs and integrate living cells into the structure. Once living cells are introduced into the FRESH mixture—everything from hearts, livers and tissues can be printed, leading to a more efficient and cost-effective way to repair damaged organs and biological structures within a human body.

This is not the first time the science community has seen the effects of 3-D printing take shape. Back in 2015, scientists at Princeton University successfully printed a prototype of a human ear using hydrogel, cartilage and nanoparticles. However, there was doubt that 3D printing could yield an entire human organ. As of today, this technology is not too far away.

“There are already signs of success of what this technology will have to offer in the future. This is going to be a revolution in the healthcare technology," stated Swarnambiga.


The title of this article is edited lyrics from Janis Jopin's 1992 hit "Take Another Little Piece of my Heart".

A sincere thank you to Dr. Swarnambiga for taking the time to speak with IGI Global and sharing her thoughts and research on 3D printing in the medical industry. For more information on this technology and the medical field, please take the time to review the publications below:


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Caroline Campbell
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