Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a method for 3D printing living skin, complete with blood vessels. This biomedical advancement helps create skin grafts that adapt to our existing skin tissue. It promises to be a remarkable advance in medicine.
“Right now, anything that can be used as a clinical product is more like a fancy Band-Aid,” says Pankaj Karande, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering and a member of the Centre for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS).” It provided some accelerated wound healing, but eventually it just fell off; it never really integrated with the host cells.
Kristin Mills, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at CBIS, says they take a very engineering approach to finding solutions to disease. The centre has made biomanufacturing one of its focus areas.
“As engineers working to reconstruct biology, we’ve always appreciated and realised that biology is much more complex than the simple systems we make in the lab,” Karande notes.” We were pleasantly surprised to find that once we started to approach this complexity, biology took over and started to get closer and closer to what exists in nature.
The strong growth of bioprinting
The rise of bioprinting is at the heart of the miracle of tissue manufacturing. Bioprinting is a niche market in 3D printing that is strong and growing.
Stratasys digital anatomy printers can print realistic human anatomy models that simulate human tissue.
According to research firm Mordor Intelligence, the global 3D bioprinting market was valued at US$385.56 million in 2018. It is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25.36% from now until at least 2024.
Part of this growth is not just from making human tissue through 3D bioprinting directly for human use; it also comes from making human tissue that can be used for testing, replacing animals, and developing drugs.
Among their findings, the researchers say that 3D bioprinters offer significant advantages for drug testing and clinical trial applications. Subsequently, this would reduce the need for animal testing to complete a large number of studies.
As they explain, in the past, clinical trials for new drug development involved testing on animals with artificially induced affected tissues. 3D bioprinting, on the other hand, allows drug developers to obtain more accurate solutions related to human clinical trials of new drugs by using human-like 3D printed tissues for testing.
As a result, they are expected to reduce the losses that occur during late failures. FDA regulators are already considering alternatives for integrating drug safety and efficacy assessments to provide space in the market.
For example, companies like Organovo (based in the US) have been instrumental in developing 3D bioprinters capable of developing liver and kidney tissue for drug discovery applications.
“This significant development highlights the enormous potential of 3D bioprinting in precision medicine, where solutions can be tailored to specific situations and ultimately to individuals,” says Deepak Vashishth, director of CBIS.” This is a perfect example of how Rensselaer engineers are solving challenges related to human health.
The transformative effects of bioprinting
Researchers from Westchester State University in Pennsylvania, together with the University of Maryland, have recently investigated the feasibility of additive manufacturing in tissue formation. They delved into the drawbacks of this technology, but heralded its value.
In their study, they explain the technical details inherent in the limitations of bioprinting.
“In the last decade, 3D bioprinting has rapidly transformed from a niche manufacturing process to a broad tissue engineering approach.
They outline ways to improve the process. In summary, there are lessons to be learned from Rensselaer and the last study: the future is becoming biomedically engineered in the present, perhaps faster than previously thought.
3D bioprinting could be the accelerator that helps this rapid evolution. In their conclusion, the latter researchers say what we should perhaps take away when we consider the benefits of 3D bioprinting and its complexity.
“3D bioprinting has grown rapidly and been widely adopted in recent years. As progress continues to be made in reducing printer costs and improving printing techniques, material availability and reproducibility, the more diverse applications of additive manufacturing in tissue engineering will only continue to climb.