A few months ago, Science Times featured a 9-year-old boy who used his 3D printer to create face shields. He was able to produce over a thousand face shields and now continues to create more.
Indeed, 3D printers have become a helpful tool in this fight against the pandemic. Now, scientists are looking into using it to bioprint miniature human organs that they can use to test drugs to treat COVID-19 and other diseases such as cancer.
Bioprinting Miniature Human Organs
Anthony Atala, the director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and his team are using 3D printers to create pinhead-sized replicas of human organs to test drugs for COVID-19.
His institute has been printing tiny clusters of organs in the past few years to test drug efficacy against bacteria and infectious diseases.
They constructed miniature lungs and colons, two of the most affected organs by the coronavirus, and send them to a laboratory at George Mason University. Initially, the team made miniature organs by hand using a pipette, but they recently used 3D printers for research.
3D printing human tissues is a form of bioprinting. Scientists are developing this method to test drugs and eventually create skin and full-size organs for transplanting. They plan on making skin tissues for burn victims, manage diabetes where wound healing proves to be challenging, and for testing of cosmetics without harming animals or humans.
The importance of bioprinting for pharmaceutical analysis is at its peak now not only for COVID-19 treatments but as well as to other diseases. Dr. Atala noted that organoids would help researchers analyze the effects of drugs on an organ "without the noise" of a person's metabolism.
Moreover, testing on bioprinted miniature organs will tell which drugs that work on animals might not perform well in people. An important guideline that cosmetic companies should remember, especially when the European Union banned them from testing products on animals since 2013.
Parts of the Bioprinted Organ
The parts of the bioprinted organs include the scaffold to act as its foundation, which is made of biodegradable materials. Scientists included 50-micron microscopic channels to the framework to provide nutrition for the organoid.
Once it is completed, a "bioink" or a combination of cells and hydrogel that turns into gelatin is printed onto the scaffold that looks like a layer of a cake.
Of course, the organ is not yet done without the blood vessels in it. Assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering Pankaj Karande from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently had success in this step.
Karande used a cell known as fibroblast that helps with growth, and collagen as the scaffold. The researchers printed the epidermis and dermis, the two layers of the skin. Together with two other researchers, Dr. Karande begins experimenting on human endothelial cells and human pericyte cells.
After some trial and error, the researchers were able to integrate the blood vessels with the skin and discovered that there were new connections between the new and existing blood vessels.
While their experiment is still on its preliminary stage, Dr. Karande was hopeful that it will succeed and would set the stage for future successful grafting in humans.