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Now you can “PRINT” Heart Cells, Organs, and Skin Cells from Inkjet Printers using Stem Cells!

After reading the title, the very first thought that hits the mind is, “Are these medical miracles endless?” Well may be. Researchers at various universities have started experimenting with a new technique named bioprinting.

Tao Xu, who teaches engineering at the University of Texas, has pioneered different ways to use a normal inkjet printer to “print” heart tissue or cardiac tissue to repair a damaged heart.

Another team of researchers is working with printers to grow kidneys from them at the South Carolina Medical University.

Xu is working on perfecting ‘cardiac patches’, which contain cells taken from patient’s body (stem cells) and very small oxygen-releasing particles that aid in the growth of these cells. These patches could be useful to cardiomyopathy (heart’s pumping ability is weakened) patients.

Bioprinting involves deposition of droplets of stem cells and oxygen mixture onto a substrate which is biodegradable. Once the first layer is deposited onto the substrate, a second layer of substrate is added followed by the deposition of droplets and so on. In this way a multilayer organic material could be created to implant into heart failure patients.

There is no set limit for the number of layers in the cardiac patch. It can continue having layers as long as there is adequate cell supply. This is because a 10×10×2 millimeter of the patch holds about 5 million stem cells.

According to him, the process of bioprinting begins with the normal ink-filled cartridges. These are emptied and sterilized after cleaning thoroughly. They are then filled with cell-rich solution, also referred to as “bio-ink.”

Most of the cells within the bio-ink are in the range of 40-50 microns. The nozzles of inkjet can allow droplets as small as 10 microns to pass through them. Therefore, the nozzle size used varies depending on the type of cells used.

Earlier studies have shown that in spite of the higher temperatures of 250-350 degree Celsius, at which the inkjet operates, majority of the cells managed to survive after getting squeezed through the heads of ink jet.

Cells just get heated superficially. Moreover, more than 90% of the cells behave normally once deposited onto the substrate.

This technology was tested in animal models. In animals bone tissue formation was determined by Xu.

Another researcher by name Atala is working on “printing” skin cells to replace these with the burnt cells. His previous work involved printing heart valves and bladders.

According to him, the technique of skin cell printing begins with the measurement of depth and dimensions of the burnt wound on the patient’s body using an infrared scanner.

Then skin cells are cultured from the sample cells taken from the patient. These would be ready within 2-3 weeks. During this time, the wounds need to be cleaned up on a daily basis to remove dead cells.

As the health returns to the burnt skin edges, new cells will be deposited in distinct layers by the printer.

This technique has been tested in rodents. Unlike a conventional skin graft which takes 5 weeks to heal, rodent wounds were healed in 3 weeks.

Looking at the pace at which this technology is developing, it can be made commercial in about five years time according to Atala.

Apart from printing skin cells, he is also working towards the reconstruction of full organs using scan and print method.

In the near future, you will not be surprised to see a printer by the bedside of a patient, that prints the required cells and these will then be implanted into the patient’s body by the doctors.

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