GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — You have probably heard of 3D printed homes and toys, but students at Southwestern University in Georgetown are learning how to 3D print human tissue and organs.
“This is what people are going to be familiar with,” said Southwestern University assistant professor Cody Crosby as he pointed to a shelf with 3D printed toys.
The toys are just for fun, but his main focus is 3D printing something that could one day save lives.
“Here we are really working to build tissues and organs from soft materials,” Crosby said.
The work Crosby and his students are doing could eliminate the need for organ donors one day.
“To be honest, every time I see it happen it shocks me and fills me with awe,” said Jonathan Smart, one of Crosby’s students.
As the printer works its way back and forth, a shape slowly starts to become recognizable.
“We are actually printing out a very small nose,” Crosby said.
While the nose can’t be used directly, Crosby says it’s a step in the right direction.
“One of the primary challenges is the 3D printers use high temperatures and some pretty corrosive processes that would not work well with most biological materials,” Crosby said. “So we are working on two things — bioinks, so these are water containing polymers that can serve as tissue substitutes. We are also working on Novel bioprinters that can handle these materials.”
3D printing these biological materials can be challenging to produce, but Crosby says in the next 40-50 years the work could change the world.
Crosby said the goal is to someday be able to grow an organ in a lab for a transplant, rather than waiting until a registered organ donor dies.
“I like the idea of being a part of a bigger picture of research,” Smart said.
Another application of bioprinting is the development of new drugs. Companies could test new pharmaceuticals on engineered human tissue rather than on animals, saving money and time
“Eventually I think we will see the first advances in skin and cartilage as those are some of the simpler organs and tissues to manufacture,” Crosby said.