Bioprinting possesses great potential for testing drugs, fixing injuries or reinstating whole organs, but it is currently limited because of complexity, viability, and speed — you cannot just create tissue on an impulse.
However, these qualms could be a thing of the past as researchers at EPFL and University Medical Center Utrecht have generated an optical system that can print complex, highly viable living tissue within just a few seconds. It could provide a breakthrough compared to the clunky, layer-based processes of today.
The method, volumetric bioprinting, produces tissue by projecting a laser down a rotating tube containing hydrogel full of stem cells.
You can give shape to the resulting tissue by simply focusing the laser’s energy on particular locations to solidify them, creating a useful 3D shape within a few seconds. After that, it is a matter of introducing endothelial cells to attach vessels to the tissue.
According to EPFL, the resulting tissues are presently just a few inches across and is still enough to be clinically useful and has already been used to print heart-like valves, a complex femur part, and a meniscus. It can form interlocking structures, too.
Damien Loterie, an LAPD researcher and one of the study’s co-authors was quoted as saying, “Unlike orthodox bioprinting which is a slow, layer-by-layer process, our technique is fast and offers greater freedom to designing without endangering the cells’ viability.”
While this is not yet ready for real-world use, the applications are fairly self-evident. EPFL assumes a new wave of “personalized, working” organs produced at “unusual speed.”
This could be suitable for implants and repairs, and might greatly reduce the appeal to use animal testing — you would just require to produce organs to simulate effects. This might be as much an ethics breakthrough as it is a technical one.