This 3D printer can repair damaged tissue from the inside

This flexible 3D printer works from the inside out to repair tissues and organs, a promising invention, the researchers said.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, have developed a flexible 3D bioprinter capable of generating layers of organic material directly on organs or tissues. Unlike other approaches to bioimpressionthis system would be minimally invasive and in some cases could help avoid major surgery or organ removal — at least in theory — but scientists warn it will be another five to seven years before they can conduct the first tests on humans.

This flexible 3D printer works from the inside out to repair tissues and organs

Called F3DB, this printer has a soft robotic arm capable of fusing biomaterials with living cells on damaged internal organs or tissues. Its flexible snake-like body enters the body through its mouth or anus, with a surgeon/driver gesticulating to the area to be repaired. In addition, the robot has small guns to direct water to target areas and the print head can also act as an electric scalpel. The team hopes that its multifunctional approach could one day become an all-in-one tool (incision, cleaning and impression) for minimally invasive surgeries.

The F3DB’s robotic arm uses soft-bellows actuators that have a hydraulic system consisting of “squirts driven by an AC motor that pumps water to the actuators,” as summarized IEEE spectrum. The arm and flexible print head can move with three degrees of freedom, just like today’s desktop 3D printers. In addition, the device has a flexible miniature camera that allows the operator to see what he is doing in real time.

A promising invention, according to the researchers

The research team performed its first lab tests with a version containing non-biological materials, namely chocolate and liquid silicone. Then they tested the thing on a pig’s kidney before moving on to printing biomaterial on a glass surface inside an artificial colon. “We saw the cells grow every day and multiply by four after seven days, the last day of the experiment,” says Thanh Nho Do, co-leader of this team and senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering from UNSW. “The results demonstrate that the F3DB has great potential to become an all-in-one endoscopic tool for endoscopic submucosal dissection procedures.”

The team is convinced that this device shows great promise, but a lot of testing will be needed before it can be used in the real world. The next steps are to continue the animal experiments. Thanh Nho Do estimates it could take five to seven years, but according to Ihrabim Ozbolat, a professor of engineering and mechanics at Pennsylvania State University, “commercialization is only a matter of time.”

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