3D bioprinting technology allows scientists to construct three-dimensional natural tissue-like structures, by using bioinks mixed with living cells. Bioprinting is a relatively new technology that has developed with the help of researchers ever since Charles Hull first invented and commercialized 3D printing in the 1980s, which laid the groundwork for 3D bioprinting. When Robert J. Klebe printed cells using an inkjet printer in 1988, bioprinting was born. After these early stages, the field continuously developed new techniques, and now it is a popular technology that can be used in different research areas like tissue engineering and new drug development.
3D bioprinting is a manufacturing technique that uses bioinks to layer-by-layer print living cells that mimic the behaviors and structures of natural tissues. Bioinks consist of natural and synthetic biomaterials that can be combined with living cells. Selecting the correct composition of bio-ink and the bio-ink density for the purpose of each research project is also important since it can impact cell viability and density. Bioprinted structures allow researchers to study the functions of the human body in vitro. In vitro studies can be performed with 2D structures, but studies performed with 3D structures are more biologically relevant, which makes bioprinting more favorable. In the domains of materials science, bioengineering, and tissue engineering, 3D bioprinting has numerous biological applications. It is also important to acknowledge that its application in drug validation and pharmaceutical development has severely increased.
The process of bioprinting consists of three stages, which are pre-bioprinting, bioprinting, and post-bioprinting. The first stage is creating a digital or 3D model for printers to read, and preparing the printing material. The second stage will involve the researchers loading cartridges containing the pre-prepared printing material into one or more print heads. Then they will set the parameters and start the printing process. To create the desired shape, the printing material will be extruded. The print arm will then begin to build the structure layer by layer. The final stage involves crosslinking, which is necessary for the majority of 3D bio-printed structures to achieve complete stability. Usually, the structure is treated with ionic solutions or UV light to achieve crosslinking. Researchers choose between the two options based on the structure’s composition. The 3D tissue models will next be put in an incubator for cultivation after being covered in the appropriate cell medium. Thus, the process is quite similar to that of a normal 3D printer.
Even though 3D printers and bioprinters are similar to each other, they have some primary differences. While bioprinters are used to print liquids or gels, 3D printers are used to print solids. Moreover, 3D bioprinters are made to handle delicate, cell-containing materials without causing too much harm.
3D bioprinting plays a significant role in tissue engineering, which attempts to produce functional tissue for use in regenerative medicine and drug testing. In other words, it can be used to print functional organs. This could greatly enhance healthcare and lower the number of individuals who pass away while awaiting organ transplantation on lengthy waiting lists. Furthermore, organs produced by 3D bioprinters have already been tested on humans. Using bio-printed tissue made from the patient's cells, Dr. Atala and his colleagues were able to grow a functional bladder, which was then successfully transplanted into the patient. Researchers are now trying to achieve the same thing with different organs, and if they ever succeed, it seems like society will no longer need organ donors. For the time being, other primary objectives of 3D bioprinting include printing implants, and skin and bone grafts.
Even though 3D bioprinting is a simple procedure at its core, it has many advantages. The significant benefits of 3D bioprinting include: reproducing the structure of the intended tissue or organ; possibly transforming future medical treatment capacities; potentially generating organ-specific and patient-specific treatments; facilitating a comprehensive and simple drug evaluation; reducing the need for animal testing; automating intricate procedures; and being consistent without human error. Besides these benefits, 3D bioprinting is still in its development stage and has its shortcomings, such as its high price, the difficulty of maintaining the cell environment, ethical concerns, and energy consumption. Of course, these concerns can easily be resolved in the future with new developments as the procedure becomes more widespread.
Overall, the future of 3D bioprinting seems bright, as it can solve one of the biggest problems in healthcare, which is the need for organ donors. With the flexibility it offers for organ and individual-specific treatments, the new technology has the potential to spark a revolution in disease prevention and treatment once some of the procedure's problems are resolved and it becomes widely used.
CELLINK. “Bioprinting Explained (Simply!).” CELLINK.
Padraig Belton. “‘A New Bladder Made from My Cells Gave Me My Life Back.’”.
UPM Biomedicals. “What Is 3D Bioprinting? How Does 3D Bioprinting Technology Work?” What Is 3D Bioprinting? | 3D Bioprinting Technology | UPM Biomedicals.