3D bio-printing could completely change how and what we do to treat patients. The technology is still years, perhaps even decades away from everyday use in hospitals, but a team of biomedical engineers in the United States are already developing a next generation version of bio-printing.
Currently, organs and tissue material for transplantation into patients is in short supply. Bio-printing could drastically alter wait times for patients looking to get new organs and possibly eliminate rejection of transplants. Researchers will also be able to easily test new drugs or combinations of new drugs on bio-printed organs, speeding up development and reducing costs.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Carnegie Mellon University have been working together on a new project to simplify and improve the bio-printing process. The research team at the two institutes is led by Savas Tasoglu, who has developed a bio-printing technique that uses untethered magnetic micro-robotic coding for precise construction of individual cell-encapsulating hydrogels (such as cell blocks).
The micro-robots are controlled via magnetic fields, which can move a single hydrogel at a time to produce a more complex structure (much like LEGO). Due to the small stature of these robots, they will be able to produce a variety of structures in different locations. The location of cell/hydrogel arrangement will ultimately effect how the final structure operates.
“Compared with earlier techniques, this technology enables true control over bottom-up tissue engineering,” explains Tasoglu.
Tasoglu and Utkan Demirci, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Biomedical Engineering, claim that their micro-robots do not effect cell vitality and proliferation. They also say numerous robots could be used to quickly generate tissue or other complex materials in a laboratory environment.
“Our work will revolutionize three-dimensional precise assembly of complex and heterogeneous tissue engineering building blocks and serve to improve complexity and understanding of tissue engineering systems,” said Metin Sitti, professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Robotics Institute and head of CMU’s NanoRobotics Lab.
“We are really just beginning to explore the many possibilities in using this micro-robotic technique to manipulate individual cells or cell-encapsulating building blocks.” says Demirci. “This is a very exciting and rapidly evolving field that holds a lot of promise in medicine.”