Researchers at Hangzhou Dianzi University in China have invented a biomaterial 3D printer called “Regenovo” which can print out human tissue cells.
Xu Ming'en and his team have demonstrated the 3D printing of liver lobule (liver cells) in their lab which takes around 40 minutes to one hour.
To start the printing process the Regenovo deposits a water-based hydrogel onto the printing bed, after which the biomaterial cells are “printed” layer by layer as with a conventional 3D printer. The finished small ears shown in the above photo take around 50 minutes to print. The finished organs are very soft so they are treated with a cross-linking agent to help with solidification and are then placed in an incubator.
“Before printing you can preview the print path of each layer and determine suitable speed and temperature. But the system is not yet smart enough, sometimes you have to control it manually.” explained Xu.
The entire printing chamber and print head must be kept at a low temperature, around 0 °C for cells. Xu expects that specially designed print nozzles and material curing technology could increase the cells’ survival rate up to 90% or more.
Although still in it’s infancy this biomaterial 3D printing technology could initially be used to create muscle fibres and small blood vessels. Xu and his team have already successfully printed models of the human ear, nose and face using medical polymer, inorganic materials, hydrogel and living cells. His team hopes that in the near future biological 3D printing technology may be able to print out liver and kidney organs that can be transplanted into the human body.