AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: 3-D Printing

3D Printing Organs, how long until this technology is ready?

An Organ Emergency

Since the late 1990s bioengineers have been working day and night on a new technology that they think can change the world: 3D printed human organs. At the time of this blog post in 2019 there are over 114,000 Americans on the waiting list for various organ transplants. And a shocking 20 people die every day waiting for available organs. Clearly the lack of handy organs is an incredibly pressing issue. This is why the work being done around the world to further push the boundaries of organ replication is so essential. But it begs the question, when can we expect this science to be widely available?

The History of Bioprinting

3D printing has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1983. In the beginning 3D printing was only used to make plastic models of parts that would then be made from metal using more conventional methods. However as the years went on the potential for 3D printable materials has skyrocketed. It is now more than possible to 3D print extremely strong metal components and even entire bridges. Looking at the lengths 3D printing had come it was just another step forward to begin experimenting with printing biological material. At first scientists experimented with creating scaffolds in the shape of essential organs and covering them in specialized donor cells. This was effective in creating working organs, but scientists were not satisfied. They wanted to print using living bioink.

The problem with printing using live cells is that, like anything alive they need constant sources of water and nutrients. This problem gave rise to the invention of “Microgel“, a gelatin made from vitamin rich materials that is used to support the bioink both structurally and nutritionally. Bioprinters often have two printing heads, one for bionink and the other for micogrel.


The Benefits of Bioprinting?

Bioprinting is not only an incredible technological advancement, but also a huge money saver. It is estimated that with the rise of bioprinting organ transplant costs may see a drastic decrease. Today, a typical organ recipient is facing costs upwards of $300,000. With new competition from the bioprinting industry the simplicity and ease of creating suitable organs and performing procedures will greatly diminish the cost of treatment.

When Will Bioprinting See Widespread Use?

It is hard to say when man made organs will be all over the place, but there are significant advancements being made every day. For example the cornea, the essential exterior to the human eye, is an organ that is extremely close to being ready for practical use. With the use of a one of a kind bioink, researchers at New Castle University were able to produce a clear, circular disc that precisely resembles a cornea. This cornea, which can be printed in just 10 minutes, can be custom fit using a scan of the patients eye. Although more research is needed into the long term safety of a real life procedure, this goes to show that bioprinting is not technology of the distant future. The age of bioprinting is just around the corner.


In closing, bioprinting is in my opinion some of the most important scientific work being done right now. There is still much work to be done. But a future where any organ can be replicated in a lab and printed up on the spot is not as far away as it may seem. The progress being made day by day will quite possibly change the world forever. It will bring new hope to thousands and will save countless lives, but at what cost? Only time will tell.

Printing More Than Just Pictures

3-D printing is an increasingly accessible technology that is bringing manufacturing into the home. Now these marvels of technology are being used in medicine. With children growing rapidly, expensive prosthetics are not an option for most families. Customized 3-D printed prosthetics are becoming more common and are helping out these families by making prosthetics less expensive.



3-D Printed Prosthetic Hand

Usually, 3-D printers only print hard material such as plastic and metal. This is very useful while creating bone replacements and customizable prosthetics, but is not ideal for printing organic tissue.

Bioprinting, or the printing of organic tissues, is a rising and feasible option in medical treatments. This advance would be a huge improvement to many practices such as medical testing and organ transplants. The ability to print organic tissue would eliminate the need for long donor list that many people wait on, but never receive an organ. With bioprinting doctors would be able to test their medicine on organic human tissue rather than animals. This all may sound like science fiction, however it is happening right now.

Carnegie Mellon recently bought a commercial 3-D printer for around 1,000 dollar and after some modifications began to print soft materials. Associate professor at Carnegie Mellon Adam Feinberg and others have developed a way to print soft materials in-expensively. The main problem with printing soft materials is the prints would collapse on the weight of itself. To prevent this the researchers at Carnegie Mellon created a process they now call FRESH (Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels). In this process the nozzle prints with a gel inside a petri dish filled with a supportive gel. Then they heat up the petri dish and the supportive gel melts away leaving the print.

As this technology is open source and inexpensive, hopefully many patients will be receiving their very own custom printed organs soon.


Original Articles:

More Information:

Bioprinting the Body


This image depicts a collection of pharmaceutical drugs, such as those that might be tested on the “bodies on a chip”. Source: 


Tiny 3-D-Printed Organs Aim for “Body on a Chip”

By Jeremy Hsu and LiveScience

Source: Scientific American (

Scientists have recently begun developing a series of 3-D printed “bodies on a chip” that could replace animal and cell testing in the future. These “bodies” consist of a series of mini-organs- chunks of tissue from various organs that have been 3-D printed out of layers of individual cells and connected with artificial scaffolding and blood/fluid channels to a electronic chip.  Tony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine explained the process as, “We’re printing miniature solid organs: miniature livers, hearts, lungs, and vascular structures. (. . .) The question is whether you can have a better system to test these drugs (.  .  .) [we] can bypass cell testing and animal testing by going straight to miniature organs.”   The chip inside the “body” measures its temperature, oxygen, pH, and other factors, enabling scientists to use these mini-organs to test drugs or see how the body might react to a disease.

The possibilities are endless! Bioprinting, and especially this type of bioprinting, is such an exciting concept because there are so many ways in which it can be utilized. First, this new use of bioprinting might enable scientists to better test the drugs we put into our bodies, skipping the steps of animal and cell testing all together and going right to an actual “body” without harming animals or people in the process.  Second, drug testing on “bodies on a chip” could help rapidly improve scientist’s ability to respond quickly to pandemics or bioterrorism attacks. Testing drugs in this manner not only allows scientists to see how a drug might affect one organ, but a whole system of organs, thereby making the whole process safer and more effective.

Questions For Further Discussion: What do you think?

In what ways is this development exciting? In what ways is it frightening? What do you think the future of modern medicine looks like? Does it include bioprinting in this way, or in any way?


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar