News Feature | December 22, 2014

Using 3D Bioprinting To Transform Transplants

By Chuck Seegert, Ph.D.


A new partnership between Yale University and a leading 3D biology company has been announced. With the help of industry experts, the Yale researchers plan to transform how tissues are 3D printed for transplant applications.

Tissue engineering is an exciting segment of medical research involving a diverse array of disciplines. The field has benefited from expertise in cell biology, materials science, and surgery. One common approach for tissue engineering is known as the cell-based approach, and it usually combines a patient’s own cells with a scaffold to create a functional, tissue-like implant. Ideally, once this partly living composite is placed in the body, the cells within it mesh with the physiology of the patient, eventually becoming a part of the patient’s anatomy. However, the technique has not been completely successful yet.

With an eye on taking this field of research to a place where it can be applied in the real world, Yale University is now teaming up with industry, according to a recent article from YaleNews. The team is composed of researchers from the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery and the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science, along with an undisclosed 3D biology company.

Donors for vital tissues seem to be decreasing, while the demand for them is increasing, and the skilled team plans to develop a solution to this dilemma.

“This field may provide a unique and new opportunity where we can print 3D organs that can supplement or replace the shortage of organs out there worldwide,” said Dr. John Geibel, vice chair and director of surgical research at the Yale School of Medicine, in the article.

Providing 3D printed organs would benefit many recipients for a number of reasons. Today, patients await organ transplants, often for long periods of time that are filled with uncertainty. An on-demand solution could significantly shorten the time it takes to provide a replacement tissue, according to the press release. Lungs, livers, kidneys, and even blood vessels and bones could become rapidly available if the technology can be fully developed. Alternatively, these technologies could provide interim organ “assist” devices until a true transplantable organ becomes available.

Another attraction to this tissue engineering approach is that the tissue constructs would likely be accepted by the body, according to the press release. Since the cells grown on the 3D printed scaffold will be harvested from the patient, they would be recognized by the body as their own. Existing transplants are often not recognized by the body and can be subjected to diseases that must be countered by powerful immunosuppressive drugs. The need for this would be eliminated with 3D printed organs.

Other research teams are pursuing methods to 3D print tissues, including researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. These teams are focused on the bioprinting of living cells inside a scaffold matrix.

Image Credit: Organovo