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“If I only had a brain, a heart, …the nerve.” The Tin Man and the Scarecrow would have had a better chance with their wish lists if they lived today. Sorry Cowardly Lion, courage can’t be duplicated. However, organs can be – well almost. Let’s just say that the 3D bioprinting research at the University of Iowa is the Land of Oz and its wizard is Ibrahim T. Ozbolat (assistant professor at UI’s Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department). His goal? To print a working organ that eventually can be transplanted into a human.

According to Donate Life America, more than 124,000 men, women, and children currently need lifesaving organ transplants. 3D bioprinting could significantly reduce these statistics one day by creating the world’s first working human organ.

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Stereolithography (the process known as 3D printing) has been around quite awhile now, since 1983 in fact. However, it’s safe to say that Chuck Hull’s (inventor) initial vision probably didn’t include revolutionizing biotechnology or to become a projected multi-billion dollar industry by the year 2030. But now the vision is real and thanks to Professor Ozbolat and his team at the University of Iowa, the evolution of 3D bioprinting is expanding with the invention of the Multi-Arm BioPrinter (MABP). However, before discussing current advancements, let’s take a look at a little history.

What is 3D Bioprinting?

In its most basic form, bioprinting uses computer-assisted design (CAD) to produce three-dimensional biological objects or parts highly specific in design and form. Even though this technology has been around since the 90’s, biologists and tissue engineers continually faced incredible challenges going from two-dimensional cell cultures to three-dimensional organs. These challenges have all changed with the invention of the world’s first commercial 3D Bioprinter, developed by a start-up biotech company called Organovo.

The NovoGen MMX Bioprinter accurately injects “bio-ink” (miniscule building blocks composed of living cells) generating tissues layer-by-layer according to specific designs. NovoGen’s main job is to extract these cells from a bioprint head, that moves in all directions, in order to place the cells exactly where needed. Over several hours – presto – an organic build up forms into several thin layers creating human tissue.

Currently, Organovo uses NovoGen for the fabrication of human liver tissues for several clinical trials, such as drug discovery testing. And just recently, the revolutionary company created the first fully cellular 3D bioprinted kidney tissue. This creation will be incredibly helpful in the understanding of kidney toxicity. However, even greater plans are in the works for the future of 3D bioprinting.

Getting From Here To There

How do you go from using 3D bioprinting to create human tissue to all-out human organs? The items needed to pull off this feat include: a kick-ass 3D Bioprinter, serious funding, an A-Team of experts, and thousands of man-hours to navigate the tricky world of bioprinting. With this in mind, Organovo as well as some major universities are all working tirelessly to create the first transplantable bioengineered human organ.

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However, Professor Ozbolat and his interdisciplinary team of scientists, medical biologists, and mechanical engineers have something that no other lab in the world has – a multi-arm bioprinter.

The Multi-Arm BioPrinter (MABP) offers synchronized motion of multiple arms to bioprint several bioink at the same time. Other 3D bioprinters only have one arm with multiple heads; this design slows down the replication process two-fold. Ozbolat feels the extra arms are a major advantage in designing printable human organs under the current ten-year timetable and states, ” [We are] working on a highly crucial problem, which will one day enable fabrication of pancreatic organs readily available for transplantation.” Ozbolat and his team intend on creating the first bioengineered glucose-sensitive human pancreas, with hopes to ultimately cure diabetes. And it’s only the beginning.

What Does The Future Hold? Next steps?

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According to Medical Design Technology, several issues remain in 3D bioprinting of human organs. They begin with the need to: – Increase the resolution of the bioprinter’s many features – Advance hardware and techniques to produce larger sized tissues – Understand the precise incubation of the tissues and it’s environment And that is only the beginning of a very, very long list. On the bright side, the general consensus among the biomedical community is that we could see the replication of a human organ anytime over the next ten years. In addition, if you feel you have what it takes to pull off this biomedical miracle, the good people at New Organ will give you and your team The New Organ Liver Prize, a million dollars and major bragging rights if you are the first team to bioengineer a human liver that will keep a large animal alive for 90 days.

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