3D printing has been used to make jewelry, prosthetics, and even entire homes. Now, scientists are looking to 3D printing to repair living tissue within the human body. If successful, the technology could be used to treat ulcers and other gastrointestinal wounds which affect one in eight people worldwide.
Bioprinters are able to “print” living cells to repair tissue. They were first conceptualized to grow organs for transplant, but researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing are exploring the potential for “in vivo bioprinting,” inserting a printer through a small incision and repairing internal organs with a minimally invasive procedure.
To make these procedures a reality, the team created a microrobot that is just 30 millimeters wide and 43 millimeters. Once inside the patient’s body, it unfolds and is ready to begin bioprinting. In their initial experiments, the team inserted the robot into a plastic stomach and successfully printed gels loaded with human stomach lining and stomach muscle cells into the model. Over the following 10 days, the cells remained viable and proliferated independently.
Current gastrointestinal repairs rely on medication with spotty success rates or invasive endoscopic surgery. If successful, the in vivo bioprinting could be used for more than just the stomach. It could be revolutionary for repairing hernias and patching ovaries to reduce infertility.
Moving forwards, the team plans to shrink the robot down to just 12 millimeters wide and equip it with cameras and sensors for more complex trial experiments.
Image source: New Atlas