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PRINT ME SOME SKIN

Cindy Maddera

Researchers led by Gabor Forgacs, University of Missouri-Columbia biological physics professor, have engineered bio-ink and bio-paper that would allow us to print out new organs. Yes, I said print. They use a special 3-D printer that has two positive displacement devices. One contains a cartridge made of a micropipette filled with tiny spheres of bio-ink and the other cartridge prints the bio-paper. The research team has been able to print sheets of heart muscle cells and tubes resembling blood vessels. The printer prints a small sheet of bio-paper that’s made up of a sugar-rich gel. The bio-ink spheres, which consist of cellular material, are printed down on top of this sheet. The process is repeated in layers until the sheet is the right thickness. Then the sheet has to be incubated in a bioreactor so that the cells inside the spheres can fuse together. It may take minutes to print up a new sheet of skin or heart muscle, but it can take up to a week for the cells to fuse together.

There are many limitations the team faces. They need to understand how blood vessels form in the skin because implanting them may not be optimal. But it sure is a big leap forward. Who knows what organs they can start printing up next?!?