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Bionic organs are closer than you think. From 3D-printed organs to artificial capillary systems made with a cotton candy machine, artificial organs are almost ready for human trial, and could mean the end of organic organ transplants furthermore. (images via WakeHealth)


In 3D printing scientists saw something special – the future of biotechnology. And it isn’t a pipe dream anymore. Scientists have actually 3D printed organs that are viable and near ready for human trials.


The Scientists at Wake Forest Institute For Regenerative Medicine successfully 3D printed ‘living’ tissue, muscles, and organs that functioned like organic counterparts in animal studies. The research team, led by Anthony Atala, used a specialized 3D printer to create artificial muscles, bone, and ear structures that function like the real thing.


Printing organs and structures for the human body is difficult on a number of levels. Beyond being strong enough to take a beating, the structures have to support the growth of blood vessels, promote organic cell growth, and feature tissue structures 200 microns or smaller. To meet all of these requirements, researchers at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine spent 10 years perfecting a custom 3D printer developed for this sole purpose.


Dubbed the Integrated Organ and Printing System (ITOP), the sophisticated 3D printer uses biodegradable material similar to plastic, and uses it to form structures similar to those of the human body. The machine can develop custom body parts for patients based on CT and MRI scans. Best yet, it actually prints a water-based, gel-like structure that houses the cells needed to make the structure ‘living.’


In trials, the structures were successful in replacing organic muscle tissue, ear tissue, and bone in rats. The bodies accepted the implants, and actually developed the blood vessels, cartilage, and surrounding tissue necessary to fully integrate the artificial organs into the body. Ongoing research will continue, and researchers, in conjunction with the U.S. Armed Forces, hope to use the technology to help injured soldiers lead more normal lives. In fact, bionic skin grafting may begin soon.




In recent studies at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, researchers used an advanced biotech for of ink-jet printing to print live skin grafts. The grafts are also able to be custom-built, like ITOP organs, and the technology could be available for the medics of the Armed Forces. Injured patients would be able to receive a bionic skin graft on the spot, without cutting into any other parts of the patient’s body. Research for this study is also ongoing, and both studies were supported in part by the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Army, and the DTRA.


With this, researchers at Vanderbilt University have also developed novel ways to generate viable artificial organs and tissues, using a cotton candy machine. Leon Bellan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt, used a $40 cotton candy machine from Target to create one of the most promising bionic organs under development.




Using the rapid spinning of the machine, Bellan and his team were able to produce artificial 3D capillary systems that kept cells alive for more than a week – one of the longest time periods on record. Using a top-down technique, and PNIPAM, Poly (N-isopropylacrylamide) as the base material, Bellan was able to produce channels ranging from 3 to 55 microns in diameter.


Bellan and his research team will continue its efforts, and hope to eventually create a low-cost, effective method for doctors and emergency medical staff to create viable organs on-demand. Bellan’s research was supported in part by the NIH.


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