A team of scientists, led by Anthony Atala, at Wake Forest University has developed a 3D printer than can create sustainable biomedical material. This team that specializes in biomedical research, calls this process the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (“ITOP”).
The genius of the ITOP process is the way it is able to structure the tissue that is being injecting into the body. The 3D printer creates cells that are suspended in gel, which protects the cells during the binding process. The process prints out both tissue and a biodegradable plastic. The plastic, called polycaprolactone, allows the cells to maintain their structural integrity while they are binding to the body. Then, the plastic degrades away. “This is very important. This process allows the tissues we print to keep the structural integrity necessary to implant inside the body,” Atala says. “Basically we’re printing a thread of hard [plastic], then a bead of these soft cells intermittently. So: hard, soft, hard, soft.”
Prior to this process, the largest cell-tissue that could be printed were only about two times the size of a grain of salt. Now with the ITOP, simple tissues can be crafted into larger more complex shapes.