Tissue Engineering: The Short- and Long-Term Benefits of Bioprinting | 3D Cell Culturing | Corning

Imagine being able to create living tissue, bone, blood vessels or even entire organs whenever you needed them for medical procedures or laboratory testing.

You don't need to imagine it. You can do it.

Thanks to 3D bioprinting, scientists can now physically reproduce biological matter. 3D printing isn't just a big commercial opportunity — one that could grow into a $1.9 billion business for medical applications by 2024. It's an exciting one too.

Researchers are exploring the potential of tissue engineering — printing responsive tissue and organs, including hearts and livers, with cellular networks that could one day be fully viable for human transplant.

How 3D Bioprinting Works

3D bioprinting works with cellular bioinks, which are sometimes combined with substances, such as Corning® Matrigel® matrix, to provide structure or to fulfill any other needs. The inks are then printed into permeable supports, such as Transwell® Permeable Supports, that facilitate anchoring without the need for scaffolding.

One research company, Organovo, brought that promising process to life by developing a proprietary 3D bioprinter that can facilitate cell-to-cell relationships from bioprinted materials.

What's more, it doesn't take forever to make them: Tissue can be printed in 60 minutes with a 24-well Transwell insert, for example.

Benefits Today, Tomorrow, and Someday

Given its speed and potential, could 3D bioprinting become the next big thing in medicine? Many thought leaders think so, and they posit that 3D bioprinting could bring value in the short term and over the long haul.

For example, the short-term benefits of bioprinting include in vivo and in vivo-like applications, such as:

  • Disease Modeling. Bioprinting supercharges 3D cell culturing by allowing researchers to replicate histologies of disease states and explore applications, such as biomarkers, to better understand disease progression.
  • Toxicology Screening. Investigators can bioprint organic material to test drug toxicity on human tissue, as Organovo has done with human liver tissue.
  • Simple Tissue Replacement. Scientists have already established proof-of-concept applications for bioprinting simple tissues, such as heart valves, ears, and cartilage, as well as a bioresorbable tracheal splint that was successfully implanted into a baby.

The long-term benefits of bioprinting could include:

  • Complex Organ Replacement. Though we might be two decades away from being able to make viable replacement organs, many researchers have posited that once we do, it could offset the shortage of organ donors and dramatically transform organ transplantation.
  • Regenerative and 4D Bioprinting. As bioprinted materials continue to evolve cellular functions within their new biological environments, it unlocks even greater potential for tissue engineering — such as the ability to print a pediatric heart that grows with the patient.
  • In Situ Bioprinting. Could we someday directly generate living tissue into the human body? If any lessons are to be learned from in situ printing of skin tissue, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

The next frontier for bioprinting doesn't come without obstacles, and scientists are already working on optimal strategies to overcome them. The ability to create advanced bioinks with cellular function is a huge piece of the puzzle. And to create complex human tissue, one needs a complex vascular network to sustain it.

Meeting those challenges head-on requires the right set of tools and supplies to perfect the tissue ecosystem in vitro, which is why we're thrilled to support Organovo and other researchers with permeable supports and hydrogels as they continue to expand the boundaries of 3D bioprinting.