Chemical biology news from across RSC Publishing.
Instant insight: Organ printing
23 April 2007
Glenn Prestwich of the University of Utah, US, outlines an organ printer's shopping list and explains how to build living structures with self-assembling cells.
The dearth of transplantable organs, as well as cultural taboos on organ donation and transplant acceptance, could have a solution in the future if the promise of tissue engineering can be fulfilled. The vision is simply this: rather than harvest organs, let's build them from scratch.
In order to build an organ, you need four components: cells (the bio-ink), a biomaterial (the biopaper), a device to make three-dimensional structures (the bioprinter), and a method to aid tissue assembly and maturation (the bioreactor). In addition to this shopping list, you need the expertise to put the components together, and you need funding. Enter the hydrogel chemists, the cell and developmental biologists, the physicists, the computational modellers, and a company that builds rapid prototyping devices. With funding from the highly competitive US National Science Foundation's Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) program, our multidisciplinary team, led by Gabor Forgacs at the University of Missouri in Columbia, US, is attempting to harness biology to build organs from cells.
Bio-ink droplets are printed onto biopaper to build elaborate 3D networks of cells
Tissue engineering, which integrates biomaterials with cell and developmental biology, is an applied science with the goal of generating implantable tissues and organ structures to improve human health. As an engineering discipline, its practitioners have an obligation to build systems with customer-dictated design criteria in mind. To arrive at a useful product, tissue engineers must understand what physicians and patients actually want and what insurance companies will reimburse. This end-user focus dictates that to achieve complexity, we must focus on simplicity.
Yet, in many ways, the biomaterial is the easy part. Shaping an artificial 'neo-organ', developing the printing tools and a computer model for layer-by-layer construction, and devising a strategy to mature the neo-organ before transplantation are among the main challenges.
Bio-ink cartridge: on the organ printer's shopping list
The basic principle employed by the FIBR team is self-assembly, a fundamental process that drives organisation in living and non-living systems. Important to organ printing is the seminal observation that, while developmental patterning during embryogenesis is under strict genetic control, it is the underlying physical principles that allow complex structures to form.
Read Gabor Forgacs, Vladimir Mironov and Glenn Prestwich's application: 'Bioprinting living structures' in a forthcoming issue of Journal of Materials Chemistry.
Read more about tissue engineering in the June special issue of Lab on a Chip: 'Cell and Tissue Engineering Microsystems.'