Researchers in eastern China have developed a 3D bio-printer that they say could create functional human body parts within the next twenty years. The printer represents a milestone for China in the field of regenrative medicine that could one day save millions of lives.Tara Cleary reports.
HANGZHOU CITY, ZHEJIANG PROVINCE + BEIJING, CHINA / WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES (REUTERS) - Body parts in a Petri dish … which scientists in Hangzhou say could one day be the solution to the dire shortage of human organs available for transplant in China.
Except for spouses and relatives, living donor organ transplants are banned in the country.
Dubbed Regenovo, it builds organs with cells made of a biological gel and layers them in much the same way as bricks and mortar in a wall.
Eventually, says Xu, an organ prototype like this kidney emerges, a version that at this stage lacks blood vessels or nerves.
"The materials we use all belong to a type of hyrdogel. That hydrogel is like gelatin or collagen which have the same physical property in our bodies. This stuff usually exists outside of our cell matrixes. So we extracted this material and we're using it in the printer. It's just like mud for some cells - it builds cells in the appropriate places, just like bricks. It's a meticulous process."
The science is not new - teams in the United States have pioneered biomedical research, printing tissue for a variety of organs, from kidneys to livers.
But a thriving organ production market is still a long way off.
Xu says one of the main challenges is finding a way to engineer the artificial organs to interact properly with the rest of the body.
"It could take fifteen to twenty years before the 3D printer can print more complex organs, and that's because some important problems need to be solved. First, the materials that the 3D printer uses need to have a higher level of precision, and need to be able to print a larger variety of cells and create a more complex cell structure. We also need a considerable number of cells for the printing process. So, stem cell research can advance the 3D printer's development."