Our future will be built with ink-jet printers. Not only can we print out polymer electronics and solid objects, we can print out biological structures. Last January, I wrote about the University of Manchester's process for building organs to spec with ink-jet technology; in July, I wrote about researchers in the US and Holland using a related process to grow cruelty-free "cultured meat." Now University of Utah College of Pharmacy Glenn Prestwich has created a "bio-paper" that works with a "bio-ink" to build tissue to repair damaged organs. Research sponsored by the US National Science Foundation will look at how well the combination works with organ-printing technology.
The details are a bit spotty, and I'm still looking for something other than popular media accounts. But for what it's worth:
The NSF study will try first to print blood vessels and cardiovascular networks. Once they prove it can be done, the scientists will look at more complex organs such as livers and kidneys and simpler but more mechanical organs like the esophagus, Prestwich said.
The hydrogel has other uses. Besides use in organ printing, Prestwich believes it is about ready for prime time in basic medicine applications. He said he expects it will be used in humans within the next year, perhaps in treatment of chronic sinusitis. [...]
The cells and liquid hydrogel are put in the printer cartridge and then dropped into three-dimensional, 1-microliter dots that form layers as the hydrogel hardens. The cells form tissue that can be implanted into a damaged organ.
[Organ-printing pioneer Gabor] Forgacs said he uses Prestwich's hydrogel because of its biocompatibility with other cells. Instead of disappearing, it becomes part of a matrix that is integral to the tissue.
A little more information can be found at the Prestwich lab website -- warning the link goes to a page with a graphic photo of the material being used in a surgery. It's not that gruesome, but some of you may be startled. More info can be found at the University of Missouri Organ Printing site.