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Fancy Kim Kardashian's ... nose? 3D bio-printing boffin can help

New technology will give you a bone

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Wrinkle up your nostrils and ask yourself if you like your nose... Well, in the not-too-distant future you might be able to 3D print yourself a new one.

Professor Kevin Shakesheff passed a 3D-printed nose, the bone part, around the audience at a Zurich Future History Now presentation in London on 28 November.

Shakesheff is professor of tissue engineering at the University of Nottingham and leads a group working on the 3D printing of human organs, with two specific projects: 3D-printed bones and 3D-printed liver tissue. He believes 3D-printed bones could be commonly available in UK hospitals possibly by 2018.

The 3D-printed nose he passed round was made using printed polymer and not actual bone tissue. How do you print actual tissue - the living cell stuff? He said that the ink used would be an emulsion or suspension of stem cells and nutrients. You would print these through a needle printing head along with a chemical to tell the stem cells what to grow into.

"Dare I say the heart is one of the easiest to bioprint? It’s just a pump with tubes you need to connect.”

That way you could tell the stem cells to become bone, cartilage or some other type of tissue, like blood vessels or liver. The “moonshot” class project in this medical tissue 3D printing universe is printing a human heart. He showed a short video of developed stem cells that started beating like heart tissue cells.

Heart

Human heart dissection

Medical scientists became excited about 3D printing with the notion that polymer material could be printed in bone-like shapes and be used as implants to replace, for example, damaged bones and teeth. Then the engineering and science developed in another direction - with the idea of printing with the basic raw material of human tissue, cells. And in particular, stem cells, which can be harvested from bone marrow and can theoretically be grown into specific types of human tissue according to the instructions they are given.

Bio-printing a nose would involve three different tissue types; a bone base pyramid, a cartilage pyramid on that and then the lobule or soft tissue.

Bio-printing nose

Bio-printing nose - different tissue types

This means the printing operation would be divided into three parts, one for each area. The printing of soft tissues would need to involve some kind of gelling agent to prevent the printed soft tissue ink material flowing away from its printed site under the influence of gravity. There would also be a time constraint - you couldn't afford for cells to die because a printing process took longer than the time for which whatever supply of nutrients was available.

Shakesheff talked about Organovo, a US human tissue bio-printing company, which prints tissue material into a 3D matrix.

Organovo

Organovo video - click image to run the vid

Its technology can produce human-identical tissue for drug testing, disease modelling and toxicology. The drug-testing can be improved by interposing human tissue testing between pre-clinical testing and actual human trials, making the latter much less random in nature. Organovo has a human liver tissue model.

Both Shakesheff and Organovo talk of regenerative surgery. Often, with disease events like heart attacks, strokes and degenerative bone syndromes, tissue is damaged and cannot be repaired. People affected with such damage suffer the effects for true rest of their lives and have to work around it somehow. Bio-printing holds out the possibility of being able to implant functioning replacement tissues.

A critical step in this is enabling blood supply in implantable tissue, with Organovo talking about establishing microvascular networks, then simple blood vessels, and then branched vascular trees. Its bio-printed liver tissue develops microvascular networks.

Stuart Williams, the scientific director of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute at the University of Louisville thinks a whole heart could be 3D printed within ten years. His team working on regenerative medicine have bio-printed a coronary artery.

Williams said in a release: "Dare I say the heart is one of the easiest to bioprint? It’s just a pump with tubes you need to connect.”

This from a man whose team bio-printed a very small liver. It was 1mm thick and 4mm wide and lived for five days. There is some way to go. Shakesheff mentioned the concept of de-programming human tissue cells to turn then into, or back into, stem cells, which, if it works, will make it easier to obtain base cells from a patient for subsequent preparation and bio-printing of tissue for implantation back into the patient, thus avoiding any tissue rejection problems.

Watch a 2011 BBC video in which Cornell University researcher Hod Lipson talks about such biological building, bio-printing with human tissue and reckons the technology will be mainstream in 20 years.

Bioprinting video

BBC bio-printing video. Click on the image to run the video...

The long-term prospects for life-extension are obvious, as are the implications for organ replacement with far less need for donors and organ harvesting or drug therapies to counter rejection.

Cosmetic surgery could also receive an energising jolt in the arm, or nose, or boob or buttock or whatever, with celebrities licensing copies of their better bits for use by wannabes wanting to improve their appearance. I'll have Kim Kardashian's nose please, but grown from my own stem cell tissue. (We made this up - Ed.) ®

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