Artificial organs may soon be cheaper and more efficient with the advent of a new bio-ink that can be printed and molded into specific organ or tissue shapes.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus have developed a more efficient and ultimately cheaper fabrication of human tissues and organs, which could lead to faster advancements in regenerative medicine.

The team used techniques, including 3D printing, to create bio-material products that function alongside living cells using a number of biomaterials including gelatin methacrylate (GelMA).

The researchers analyzed the physical and biological properties of three different GelMA hydrogels—porcine skin, cold-water fish skin and cold-soluble gelatin, and found that the cold-soluble gelatin was the best performer and a strong candidate for future 3D organ printing.

“A big drawback of conventional hydrogel is its thermal instability,” Keekyoung Kim, an assistant professor at UBC Okanagan's School of Engineering, said in a statement. “Even small changes in temperature cause significant changes in its viscosity or thickness.

“This makes it problematic for many room temperature biofabrication systems, which are compatible with only a narrow range of hydrogel viscosities and which must generate products that are as uniform as possible if they are to function properly.”

The research team also developed new hydrogels—one made from fish skin and a second made from cold-soluble gelatin—and compared their properties to those of porcine skin GelMA. Ultimately, the cold-soluble GelMA was the best performer—forming healthy tissue scaffolds, allowing cells to successfully grow and adhere to it while also being thermally stable at room temperature.

The cold-soluble GelMA produces consistently uniform droplets at temperatures, making it a good choice to be used in 3D bio-printing.

“We hope this new bio-ink will help researchers create improved artificial organs and lead to the development of better drugs, tissue engineering and regenerative therapies,” Kim said. “The next step is to investigate whether or not cold-soluble GelMA-based tissue scaffolds are can be used long-term both in the laboratory and in real-world transplants.”