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(Credit: Ozbolat Lab/Penn State University)Although first originated in 2003, the world of bioprinting is still very new and ambiguous. Nevertheless, as the need for organ donation continues to increase worldwide, and organ and tissue shortages prevail, a handful of scientists have started utilizing this cutting-edge science and technology for various areas of regenerative medicine to possibly fill that organ-shortage void.

Among these scientists is Ibrahim Tarik Ozbolat, an associate professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics Department and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State University, who's been studying bioprinting and tissue engineering for years.

While Ozbolat is not the first to originate 3D bioprinting research, he’s the first one at Penn State University to spearhead the studies at Ozbolat Lab, Leading Bioprinting Research.

“Tissue engineering is a big need. Regenerative medicine, biofabrication of tissues and organs that can replace the damage or diseases is important,” Ozbolat told R&D Magazine after his seminar presentation at Interphex last week in New York City, titled 3D Bioprinting of Living Tissues & Organs.”

3D bioprinting is the process of creating cell patterns in a confined space using 3D-printing technologies, where cell function and viability are preserved within the printed construct.

Recent progress has allowed 3D printing of biocompatible materials, cells and supporting components into complex 3D functional living tissues. The technology is being applied to regenerative medicine to address the need for tissues and organs suitable for transplantation. Compared with non-biological printing, 3D bioprinting involves additional complexities, such as the choice of materials, cell types, growth and differentiation factors, and technical challenges related to the sensitivities of living cells and the construction of tissues. Addressing these complexities requires the integration of technologies from the fields of engineering, biomaterials science, cell biology, physics and medicine, according to nature.com.

“If we’re able to make organs on demand, that will be highly beneficial to society,” said Ozbolat. “We have the capability to pattern cells, locate them and then make the same thing that exists in the body.”

So how does Ozbolat’s team create these organs and tissues? According to the researcher, there are two ways. One of the ways is to make these cells from hydrogel scaffolds. A scaffold is a temporary material that houses cells.

“Cells are tiny pieces that cannot make a 3D structure alone, so they need 3D support,” he explained.

Later the cells are mixed with hydrogel (collagen). The hydrogel can be harvested from a rat’s bone marrow. Rats are the main animals on which Ozbolat’s team continues to do tests. The other option is to make the hydrogels synthetically by buying the product commercially and then mixing it with the cells. These hydrogels then grow and start making tissues, which takes anywhere from two to several months.

Regular inkjet printers can be converted into bioprinters, according to Ozbolat. The printer allows multiple cell types and components to be used for printing. Today, universities have adapted that technology so that skin cells can be placed in an ink cartridge and printed directly on a wound. So basically, cells are used as ink.

Ibrahim Tarik Ozbolat is the associate professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics Department at Penn State University where he researches cutting-edge bioprinting science and technology. (Credit: Ozbolat Lab)“It’s really hard to make tissue outside the body; we have cells loaded in hydrogels and then keep it in the dish,” he added. “But if you transplant that into the body, the body is the best bioreactor. It’s the best place for the tissue construct and then for cells in the tissue construct to grow.”

3D bioprinting has already been used for the generation and transplantation of several tissues, including multilayered skin, bone, vascular grafts, tracheal splints, heart tissue and cartilaginous structures. Other applications include developing high-throughput 3D-bioprinted tissue models for research, drug discovery and toxicology.

Bioprinting is not being applied to humans yet, due to several FDA regulatory issues. However, animals have already accepted the manmade tissues, according to the bioprinting expert.

Ozbolat’s research group has been engaged in several projects sponsored by governmental agencies and private enterprises. Some of the tissues his team has worked on include: bone, cartilage, blood vessels, composite tissues, skin, pancreas, and tumor tissue models.

While Ozbolat contends bioprinted organs will not replicate the exact same thing that we have inside our bodies, it comes very close to it and possesses other advantages.

“Bioprinting has the capability of making things more automatedly. We can make several tissue models at once and that is important in drug screening—making them in tandem and selling to biopharma companies,” he concluded.

Advantages of Bioprinting

  • Bioprinting has superior features compared to other biofabrication techniques, such as molding, magnetic assembly, microfluidics-based approaches:
  1. Enables fabrication of anatomically correct shapes
  2. Allows fabrication of porous structures
  3. Ability to co-culture multiple cell types locally
  4. Precise patterning of cells and biologics
  5. Controlled delivery of growth factors and genes
  6. Ability to generate tissue models in high-throughput manner
  7. Ability to integrate vascularization

Source: Ozbolat Lab, Penn State University

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