A new use of additive manufacturing technology is a
machine called a 3-D Bioplotter that can fabricate a wide range of
According to Dr.
Vladimir Mironov, director of the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Center at
the Medical University of South Carolina, one of the long-term goals is to
print human organs such as kidneys and livers.
The Bioplotter uses a nozzle to print materials within
temperatures ranging from -50 to 150C. The materials include calcium phosphate
ceramics, degradable polylactic/polyglycolic acid polymers, and hydrogels such as
alginate, agarose, fibrin and collagen. 3-D printers, such as the 3-D Bioplotter,
are currently used to manufacture biodegradable scaffolds used for custom bone
implants. In the future, machines may apply advanced microfluidics to print
human stem cells.
The nozzle is driven by numerical control code supplied
from a contour file. After transferring 3-D CAD data to a PC provided with the
Bioplotter, it is processed by a special software package.
"Tissue spheroids will be used as building blocks,"
Mironov said in a presentation at Rapid 2010, held in Anaheim, CA May 18-20. He
describes tissue spheroids as living materials with certain measurable,
evolving and potentially controllable composition, material and biological
properties. When they are placed closely together, tissue spheroids undergo
fusion. After a structure is printed it would then go into a bioreactor.
In his presentation Mironov described his efforts to
engineer small segments of a branched vascular tree by using vascular tissue
spheroids. Without vascular systems, the organ wouldn't survive more than five
hours," he says.
That's where the 3-D bioprinters play a key role because
of their ability to create complex internal designs in minute layers.
The economics for the technology are promising considering
that annual dialysis costs $75,000 and many people wait several years before
receiving a transplant.
The Bioplotter shown at Rapid 2010 is a fourth generation
machine that costs 150,000 Euros ($188,000).
The 3D-Bioplotter, developed by a German company called
envisonTEC, operates in sterile environments in a laminar flowbox, which is a
requirement of biofabrication. The technology was invented at the Materials
Research Center in Germany.