Science Weekly: Printing out organs may become reality

Scientists are refining technology that may be able to produce different types of tissue through printing.

With the German Organ Transplantation Foundation reporting that the number of organ donors has declined more than 18 percent since the first half of 2013 and the number of organ transplants rising in demand, it may just be what the doctor ordered.

Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology in Stuttgart, Germany, have developed suitable bio-inks made from living cells for bio-printing technology.

Bio-ink is a transparent liquid that consists of components from natural tissues and living cells. It is based on biological materials such as gelatin, which comes from collagen. Researchers have chemically modified the gelling behavior of gelatin to adapt the biological molecules for printing. It will not gel like unmodified gelatin.

After the fluids are irradiated with UV light, they form hydro-gels. These polymers contain a large amount of water just like real tissue, which is stable in warmed physiological environments like human bodies.

Researchers have found a way to chemically modify the biological molecules so the gels have different strengths and swelling characteristics. Therefore, they can imitate natural tissue, from solid cartilage to soft adipose tissues.

Scientists believe the potential for these synthetic hydro-gels is great, because they form a natural environment devoid of byproducts that can be immediately populated with genuine cells to form a functional tissue model.

The biggest challenge facing these scientists is producing tissue that has its own system of blood vessels through which the tissue can be provided with nutrients, which is crucial when forming fully functioning organs.

Information compiled from