I still remember when computers were introduced in our workplace. I was amazed at how our 286 personal computer has made office life easier. I thought that our “hightech” electric typewriter, the latest model then which has a memory bank, was the best there is. And with the advent of computers, printers also came in. Our first unit then was a dot-matrix.
Then technology began to speed up. Our 286 was quickly replaced by 386 then 486 and Pentium. Today, personal computers have become smaller, faster and more intelligent. Printers improved too. From dot matrix, which by the way are still being used today, came laser printers and inkjets. Today printing is no longer limited to flat paper sheets. There is such a thing as 3D printing. This printer can “print” or create a three-dimensional object by adding successive layers of material. It can create a human face, a cup, machine spare parts, etc. Objects can be of almost any shape or geometry and are produced using digital model data from a 3D model or another electronic data source such as an Additive Manufacturing File.
Pushing this 3D technology further, researchers have developed a printer that can create human organs. Called 3D bioprinting, it’s the process of creating cell patterns in a confined space using3D-printingtechnologies,wherecell functionandviability are preserved within the printed construct. Recently, a 3D bioprinter was able to create a totally functional human skin adequate for transplanting to patients or for use in research or the testing of cosmetic, chemical, and pharmaceutical products.
According to the news item, this new human skin is one of the first living human organs created using bioprinting to be introduced to the marketplace. It replicates the natural structure of the skin, with a first external layer, the epidermis with its stratum corneum, which acts as protection against the external environment, together with another thicker, deeper layer, the dermis. This last layer consists of fibroblasts that produce collagen, the protein that gives elasticity and mechanical strength to the skin.
Bioinks are key to 3D bioprinting, according to the experts. When creating skin, instead of cartridges and colored inks, injectors with biological components are used. “Knowing how to mix the biological components, in what conditions to work with them so that the cells don’t deteriorate, and how to correctly deposit the product is critical to the system”, says the researchers.
I wonder what will be next. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCIB), 3D bioprinting has already been used for the generation and transplantation of several tissues, including multilayered skin, bone, vascular grafts, tracheal splints, heart tissue and cartilaginous structures. Bioprinting is not being applied to humans yet, due to several FDA regulatory issues. However, animals have already accepted the manmade tissues, according to a bioprinting expert. There are also researches on how to enable cells to be printed directly onto or into the human body. Aside from technical issues, I’m sure there will be ethical issues that will be raised along the way.