Oct 9, 2015 | By Benedict

Here at 3Ders, we report on many 3D printing developments in the field of medical science. Many of these stories concern 3D printed models of organs, which doctors can use to successfully gain information about particular human bodies to aid surgery. Yesterday we heard a little more about 3D-printed prosthetic limbs, but rarely do we hear about functioning 3D-printed organs. Today it has emerged that a team of Chinese scientists are one step closer to producing a 3D-printed human liver, after they used a specialised 3D bio-printer to build artificial versions of tiny sections of the liver known as hepatic lobules. There are around a million hepatic lobules in a human liver, and the team believes that it can build upon this important development to eventually 3D print an entire liver. If this could be achieved, the implications would be colossal.

Professor Xu Mingen with the Regenovo

The tiny artificial lobules were created using the Regenovo 3D bio-printer, purpose-built by the team at Hangzhou Electronic Science and Technology University led by Professor Xu Mingen. The Regenovo 3D bio-printer has been in the public eye since August 2013, when it was first unveiled. The machine, which weighs 50kg, prints not with ABS or any kind of plastic, but with real human cells, to form layers of human tissue. The early version of Regenovo 3D printer measures 60x50x74cm, with an 80 micron printer nozzle. For the 3D bio-printer to work properly, the entire 3D printing chamber and nozzles are kept at a low temperature—around 0°C for cells. Specially designed nozzles and material curing technology help to maintain a good cell survival rate. The latest version of Regenovo 3D bio-printer features multi-nozzle deposition system, that means several parts may be made simultaneously. Xu has previously championed the 3D printer’s high level of accuracy, its ability to print high viscosity materials, and its low cell damage rate.

Whilst the machine was able to successfully 3D print body parts such as ears relatively early on in its career, the artificial construction of vital organs such as the liver and kidneys have proven to be a more challenging project, for it is still not possible to print living tissue and blood vessels simultaneously. Organs such as the successfully 3D printed ears have no colour, blood vessels, or nerves.

3D printed Kidney

Xu was keen to stress the progressive motives behind his team’s research, explaining that where industrial 3D printing is generally demand-driven, with research going in whichever direction financial gain leads it, the medical research being undertaken at Hangzhou is for the sake of research and human progress. The researchers hope that the successful development of the artificial hepatic lobules will open the gateway for the production of a complete, functioning, 3D-printed liver. We will be keeping a close eye on their progress.

 

 

 

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