Although we’re hearing more about the prospect of 3D-printed replacement body parts, those parts need to be implanted via relatively large incisions. That may not always be the case, however, thanks to a new “bio-ink” that could allow parts to be printed within the body.
And while bio-inks are not a new development, current versions can only build body parts outside the body, layer by layer, and typically require UV-light to cure them into a solid material. Unfortunately, UV rays would be harmful to the patient’s own tissue if administered inside the body.
This is where the new bio-ink comes in. It was developed through a collaboration between scientists from the California-based Teraski Institute, Ohio State University, and Pennsylvania State University.
The liquid, which contains living cells, a framework material, and growth factors, is dispensed from the fine tip of a robotically-controlled nozzle, that is surgically inserted into the patient’s body through a small incision.
In order to hold each strand of the bio-ink in place, the nozzle punctures a small void in the patient’s soft internal tissue, then deposits an anchoring blob of the fluid within that space.
As the nozzle is subsequently withdrawn, it places another blob on the outside of that tissue, serving as an additional anchor. The rest of the strand is then drawn over to another anchoring point. And the best of it all, the bio-ink can be internally applied at normal body temperature and cured into a solid using a non-UV visible light source.
Such advances in tissue engineering are instrumental in providing lower-risk, minimally-invasive procedures for repairing tissues. Some of the most immediate uses of the bio-ink may include the application of patches on damaged or defective organs or the creation of hernia repair meshes.