Over the next two decades, the advancement of bioprinting is set to be a major driver of medical, health and science innovation. Remarkable advancements in 3D bioprinting are paving the way for 4D biopriting’s future. 

In the lab, soft tissue and bone matter engineered through bioprinting is often materially stronger than what the body produces naturally. The impact of 3D and 4D bioprinting advancement in replacement of original tissues from various regions of the body is a significant. An innovation that foreshadows the biotech industry’s potential future of making improvements on natural human body structure. 

Most notably, biocompatibility of engineered materials is key to eliminating the risk of rejection by the body, commonly a factor that jeopardizes the success of today’s global patient implant/transplant landscape.   

3D BioPrinting Explained 

The medical field is host to many applications for 3D bioprinting. Over the last few years, 3D bioprinting technology has been used to print tissues for biopharma research. Engaging techniques similar to standard 3D printing, bioprinting combies biomatter, live cells and growth structures to build biomedical elements that behave with characteristics of natural tissue. Most commonly 3D bioprinters print layer-by-layer installing bioink matters creating structures similar to the likeness of tissue.  

With various success of building tissues using 3D bioprinting, experts have yet to build an entire full size organ due a gap of necessary efficiencies in modern medical procedures needed to successfully complete bioprinting of a functional organ. 

  • The major challenge to successful 3D printing of a live organ today is emulating the body’s natural process in keeping the organ alive during printing. 
  • The human body naturally feeds growing tissue daily with the food and oxygen needed, while also removing cell waste products in the process. 

Recently researchers in Israel successfully printed a 3D human heart utilizing biolinks cultured from a human donor patient cells. However, the 3D bioprinted heart produced is only 2.5cm, about the size of a Matchbox car. The experiment’s hypothesis is that utilizing the patient’s own cells makes it 100% donar biocompatible. 

4D BioPrinting Explained  

Future innovation in bioprinting naturally answers a common question of the different potential applications of 3D and emerging 4D bioprinting technology:

  • 3D bioprinted matter is primarily static and does not fully recapitulate the dynamic nature of natural human body tissues. 
  • 4D bioprinting moves to the next level, including confirming attributes of printed structures in a predetermined fashion using responsive stimuli biomaterial and/or live cells.
  • Natural cell forces can also be incorporated into 4D bioprinted structures.

4D bioprinting’s ability to construct such dynamic biomatter elements is anticipated to soon allow fabricating structures of tissues that can withstand morphological transformation. Researchers are discovering new stimuli responsive biomaterials that could serve as biolinks for 4D bioprinted structures. 

3D and 4D Bioprinters Explained  

Bioprinters are comprised of three major components: Hardware, bio-ink and the biomaterial surface it is printed on. 

Made from living cells, bio-ink behaves much like a liquid substances which the printer is able to manipulate to create virtually any shape. To produce bio-ink researchers compile a batch of cells that are inserted in a special cartridge which is then inserted into the bioprinter. Next to the bio-ink cartridge biopritners house an additional  bio-paper gel cartridge. 

Laser assisted bioprinters are considered to be the best in the marketplace currently, providing the best resolution and high and product. Inkjet bioprinters are another option in use today for fast printing or large projects. That said, the drop-on-demand inkjet bioprinter prints objects in exact material amounts saving material waste and overall cost. 

Summary 

Ethical concerns around 3D and 4D bioprinting have been raised by some organizations, namely by faith based groups concerned with the cosmetic desire to manipulate and “improve on” the natural human body structure. That said, advancements in 3D and 4D bioprinting science and technology undoubtedly will be one of the most exciting innovations spanning the global healthcare industry for years to come.

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