Scientists have produced 3D-printed living body parts including sections of bone, muscle and cartilage that have all functioned normally after being implanted into animals which is being seen as a significant advance in regenerative medicine.
The advancement was first published in Nature Biotechnology has raised hopes of using living tissues to repair the human body.
Possibility of replacing damaged body parts such as a missing ear, scarred muscle or even a damaged jaw faced the challenge of keeping cells in alive as they would become starved of oxygen and nutrients when the tissues were thicker than 0.2 milimeters.
Doctors at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina developed a method through which printed tissue riddled with micro-channels, much like the texture of a sponge, allowed nutrients to penetrate the tissue.
The procedure named, Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP) combines a bio-degradable plastic which provides the structure and a water-based gel which contains the cells.
When implanted into animals the plastic broke down and was replaced by a natural ‘matrix’ of proteins that were produced by the cells, while blood vessels and nerves began to grow in the implants.
The lead researcher at Wake Forest, Professor Anthony Atala, said 3D printing is opening new doors for medicine.
Scientists say they are waiting to see how durable the implants would be even though they have the same strength as human tissue.
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