Bioprinting comes alive (but not in the way you might imagine it)

Although it has captured the public imagination, bioprinting fully functioning vascularized whole organs won’t become a reality any time soon. Nor does it need to, says Ibrahim Ozbolat, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Iowa (UI; Iowa City, IA). “That will be very challenging.”

“But we can bioprint something that functions in a similar manner and meets the needs of the patient. It’s more realistic to print a simulacrum that performs the same function rather than an exact replica,” Ozbolat told PlasticsToday. His research at UI on bioprinting blood vessels and pancreatic, bone, and cartilage tissue is advancing that technology.

Bioprinting is not simply 3D printing a scaffold or some other nonliving implantable part, notes Ozbolat. It involves printing with live cells in various constructs, and one of the technology’s hurdles has been keeping those cells alive throughout the process.

Much of Ozbolat’s research at UI has been focused on bioprinting perfusable vasculature tissues that will allow fluids to circulate through blood vessels. “The ultimate goal is to print organs,” says Ozbolat, but getting to that end point has been difficult because cells need nutrients to live, and blood vessels and capillaries are hard to organize into a network. “Think of it like a tree, where the branches grow out and divide into ever smaller branches. Advances have been made, but the big question is: How do you integrate small capillaries into that network?”

Ozbolat’s current project involves reconstruction of cranial tissue on rat models, where the defects are smaller than 6 mm in diameter. “It starts as a tissue construct that, because of its size, does not need significant vascularization, and leads to tissue regeneration,” explains Ozbolat. … (read more)