Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Scientists create liver by using 3D printer

Over the last couple of years, 3D printers have gained the interest of many scientists that have been trying to create artificial organs in the lab. Because these machines are able to print layers of cells, providing them with the right instructions could help us create tissues for transplantable organs. This should in turn aid us in getting rid of donor organ shortage. Scientists from MIT developed a new printing mechanism that allowed them to create a functioning liver, paving the way for transplantable lab-grown organs. Previously, researchers showed that they were able to print bone.

Instead of simply printing ordinary liver tissue, the scientists started with a sugar framework. This particular structure was then used as a mould to form blood vessels. After the blood vessel cells stuck to the framework and formed a functioning circulatory network, the sugar was washed away with water. Only then did the scientists apply the liver cells and started to form the actual tissue.

Creating a blood vessel network is called vascularisation, and it is one of the hardest things to achieve when creating an organ. When creating tissues, a circulatory network is needed to pump nutrients and oxygen around, therefore allowing growth of an organ. The MIT scientists started with creating the blood vessels, instead of doing it afterwards, and by doing so they managed to keep their tissue alive. Often, printing cells results in death before actual tissue forms.

The printing technique that starts off with a sugar framework has proven to be effective, and may be the foundation for the development of lab-grown artificial organs ready for transplantation. Because the liver created by MIT was shown to be viable, the first transplantation experiments may not be far away. Of course, we need animal tests first, meaning that the first human clinical trials are likely to be years away. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction. And because the scientists think their technique can be used for other organs as well, many scientific groups may be able to benefit from these findings.

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