3D Printing Could Revolutionise Future of Healthcare
Tissue damage and degeneration is a rather common phenomenon among humans and the human body has limited regeneration capabilities. Current treatment options to replace damaged tissue, and organs rely on obtaining material from the same individual, or transplantation from cadavers. In case of an organ, or tissue donation, finding out the appropriate donor match is an uphill task and even has a risk of graft rejection due to immune response. The progress in drug testing, and regenerative medicine could greatly benefit from laboratory-engineered human tissues built of a variety of cell types with precise 3D architecture - 3D printed organs heart. The additive manufacturing technology has also led to remarkable advances in the healthcare industry as it facilitates on-demand, personalised printing of cells, tissues, and organs. The technology excels at catering to highly customised applications, and the human body is about as custom as it gets. The world where terminal patients would not have to wait for months, or even longer for a lifesaving transplant could actually be the reality of the medical world, with the revolutionary 3D bioprinting technology. It involves patient-specific surgical models, custom-made prosthetics, personalised on-demand medicines, and even 3D printed human tissues.
3D Bioprinting Increasingly Perceived as a Potentially Non-expensive, and Time-efficient Alternative
Medical devices often have complex design requisites, internal geometries, or organic forms - like the curves and hollow spaces in a hearing aid, or a heart. Moreover, implants are more likely to be accepted by a patient’s body if they have porous surfaces. These types of shapes are difficult, rather near to impossible to achieve with the help of traditional manufacturing. This is where 3D bioprinting can make the difference. Implants, prostheses, devices, anatomical models, and even some tools that need to be designed for different patients could be obtained with the help of 3D bioprinting. While with traditional technologies, such a level of customisation is highly expensive, and time-consuming, 3D bioprinting can produce small runs of custom parts - even just one part at a time, eliminating the need for additional costs, tooling, and set-up.
3D Bioprinting Targets a Massive Demand-Supply Gap in Transplant Space
A significant goal underlying the growth of 3D bioprinting market is the potential to bridge the enormous gap between demand and supply of organs for transplantation. The organ shortage is a global crisis due to a rapidly increasing demand for organ transplantation, and inadequate availability of organ donors. As per The American Transplant Foundation, and The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), over 120,000 people are currently waiting with bated breath for different organ donations in the US alone. The number of patients waiting for an organ donor has multiplied five-fold in the last 26 years. A new person is added to the waiting list of organ seekers every nine minutes. 17 people die every day due to the lack of availability, or appropriateness of organ donors. The average wait time for a heart transplant in the UK is around 1,085 days, and nearly 3.5 years for a kidney transplant in the US.
While a person can donate a kidney when living, a heart cannot be donated unless comes from a brain-dead patient. One is not guaranteed to survive the waiting time, thus the ability to 3D bio-print the desired organs would be invaluable to the world. Besides, the ability to easily transport 3D printers has made it a key tool even in conflict zones to help those who have lost limbs, with MakerBot being one of the leaders in this area of healthcare.
Fully-functioning, Transplantable Organs Remains Ultimate Goal of 3D Bioprinting
The biomaterials used in 3D bioprinting refer to the synthetic, and natural polymers such as alginate, gelatine, collagen, agarose, polyethylene glycol (PEG), and hydroxyapatite because of their biocompatible nature, and controllable physio-chemical properties that can be modified to suit the ECM structure, and formation. The main objective of three-dimensional printing is to print a living cell, or create a 3D scaffold of a biomaterial - a composite made up of biomaterials, cells, and other required components. It involves an automated fabrication of 3D printed living tissues by the layer-wise deposition of biomaterials with an accurate positioning of cells.
The main component of the 3D bioprinting is the bio-ink (such as cells, biomedical polymers, and bio-signals), which is crucial for the development of functional organs, or tissue structures. The technology can be used for fabrication of functional human tissues, or organs such as cartilages, heart, liver, skin, bones, and muscles along with generation of microfluidic models of organs-on-a-chip in the near future. As the 3D bioprinting technology continues to progress, healthcare providers, and researchers will continue to explore newer applications - from implants and surgical tools, to tissues and functioning organs such as 3D printed lungs, intestines, liver, and brain. A recent research published by Polish researchers throws light on printing prototypes of artificial pancreas.
In-situ Bioprinting Remains a Challenge with Multiple Obstacles
3D bioprinting has impacted everything from spine care to orthotics, and 3D bioprinted tissues are supposed to be applied directly at the point of injury, whether it is the tissue itself, around bones, or on the skin. Doctors may be able to scan wounds and spray on layers of cells to heal them faster. Tailoring medical solutions to patients, and doctors definitely improves the final outcome. Leading companies such as L’Oréal are investing premium into R&D to discover ways to create 3D printed skin. 3D bioprinted skin is useful not just for humans directly but also for skincare, and other related segments seeking new ways to test their products, study human organ functioning, and test pharmaceutical drugs without requiring living humans, or animals. The real challenge facing 3D bioprinting is its overly complicated know-hows, and therefore the associated ethical, and regulatory concerns, as well as the various biological, and technological challenges.
Major 3D Bioprinting Companies in Global Market
Allevi Inc., Andiamo, Aspect Biosystems Ltd, CELLINK GLOBAL, CoreLink, LLC., ENVISIONTEC, INC., LAZARUS 3D, LightForce Ortho, Organovo Holdings Inc., Poietis, and Tissue Regeneration Systems Inc. are some of the significant players driving the competitive landscape of the global 3D bioprinting market.