Dec 29, 2015 | By Kira

Patients born with genetic defects, or those who have lost all or part of an ear or nose through injury or illness, could soon have new extremities custom-made for them from their own biological cells. Plastic surgeons at Morriston Hospital in Wales are developing a method for 3D bioprinting cartilage-based body parts, including noses and ears, using the patients’ own cells, and they hope to be among the first to use them in human clinical trials within the next three to four years.

Working alongside engineers and scientists, doctors from the hospital’s Welsh centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery have created their own 3D bioprinter, and have been perfecting the technology since 2012.

The process consists of collecting cell samples from the patient and growing them in an incubator over several weeks. The cells are then 3D printed along with a special liquid formula in order to create a jelly-like support material. The material is then put back into the incubator with a flow of nutrients to continue growing until they are strong and stable enough to be implanted into the patient.

Currently, the Morriston Hospital surgeons have already succeeded in 3D bioprinting small pellets of living cartilage tissue that are capable of surviving the 3D printing process, and they have developed a jelly-like support structure that is compatible with the human cells. The next stage is to blend the jelly and the cartilage cells, and 3D print them into the required body-part shapes (which are digitally constructed either from 3D scans or 3D modeling software).

"We're trying to print biological structures using human cells, and provide the right environment and the right timing so it can grow into tissue that we can eventually put into a human. It would be to reconstruct lost body parts such as part of the nose or the ear and ultimately large body parts including bone, muscle and vessels,” said Professor Iain Whitaker, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Morriston.

Professor Iain Whitaker; Zita Jessop, Jasper Sison and Dr Daniel Thomas.

“We already have proof of concept that human cells can survive within the printable structures we've made so far, and will survive the printing process,” he continued. "We're currently working on growing up large numbers of cells in order to print larger constructs, and undertake a number of tests to ensure it will be stable enough to be used to implant into a patient."

Though the work is still in relatively early stages of development, the team is quite confident in their proof of concept success, and in the capabilities of 3D bioprinting technology. “Lots of people have heard about 3D printing, which is becoming more mainstream, and you can actually buy 3D printers on the internet, to print plastics or metals. But we are working on the next stage - 3D bioprinting - which is printing living tissues, living structures,” said Whitaker.

Once further developed, the work will have to be tested on animals and go through an ethics process before being used on humans, however that could be as soon as within the next three years. Once complete, the 3D bioprinting process could be used to ‘grow’ a new body part within two months without having to take pieces from another part of the body, which would cause another defect or potentially further damage.

In the past, we have seen other examples of 3D bioprinted body parts—including a young boy who received a 3D printed nose, and another who received a 3D printed ear. MIT is also developing a highly stretchable hydrogel material for 3D printing ears, noses, and joints. However, if Morriston is successful, they would be amongst the first recreate body parts using human cells, and then implant them directly into patients.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Jeffery wrote at 1/6/2016 9:54:58 PM:

Absolutely awesome, these guys are hero's. All the best with the research.

Alvaro wrote at 12/31/2015 12:26:16 PM:

A breaktrough! Congratulations!

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