Researchers make progress in 3D printing of organs, tissues

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Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University are using 3D printing to rebuild components of the heart, ranging from small blood vessels to moving ventricles.

The researchers have developed an advanced version of what is known as the Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels, known as FRESH technology, to use collagen in 3D printing to create cardiac components with unprecedented complexity.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and the major component of connective tissues. While 3D bioprinting is not new technology, being able to achieve direct printing of living cells and soft biomaterials has been difficult, according to researchers.

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FRESH employs an embedded printing approach by using a temporary support gel that makes it possible to 3D print complex scaffolds—a temporary platform—using collagen in its native unmodified form. In the past, researchers have been limited because soft materials were difficult to print with high fidelity.

“We now have the ability to build constructs that recapitulate key structural, mechanical and biological properties of native tissues,” says Adam Feinberg, chief technology officer and co-founder of FluidForm, which holds the license to FRESH technology from Carnegie Mellon. “There are still many challenges to overcome to get us to bioengineered 3D organs, but this research represents a major step forward.”

While the heart was used for the proof of concept, FRESH printing of collagen and other soft biomaterials is a platform with potential to support advanced scaffold platforms for a range of other tissues and organ systems, Feinberg advises.

Now, FluidForm will commercialize the FRESH technology with its first product, the Trileaflet heart valve, under the name LifeSupport bioprinting support gel.

Francis Collins, MD, director at the National Institutes of Health, is impressed with the advancements being made at Carnegie Mellon. “What distinguishes the new approach is its ability to print soft biological scaffolds that set the stage for the creation of custom-made tissues and organs with unprecedented anatomical detail,” he says.

The complete study is published in the current issue of Science, available here.

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