Bioprinting has promising future

The pioneering concept of bioprinting is delivering promising results according to one of the early champions of the process, Professor Brian Derby of The University of Manchester.

Writing in the journal Science, in an article titled Printing and Prototyping of Tissues and Scaffolds Professor Derby of The School of Materials, looks at how the concept of using printer technology to build structures in which to grow cells, is helping to regenerate tissue.

Both inkjet and laser printer technology can be used to build the 3D scaffolds that cells can be grown in and also place the cells in these structures simultaneously. Professor Derby explains how bioprinting works, ''Inkjet technology places the structure's material in small droplets, which then solidify. More droplets are then placed on top of the previous ones in a specific pattern. The structure is built using this method which is generally referred to as additive manufacture. Laser printing uses light to solidify the structure's material layer upon layer. These methods have allowed us to develop very complex scaffolds which better mimic the conditions inside the body.''

The scaffold provides a surface for the cells to adhere, thrive and multiply. Both the scaffold material, composition and its internal architecture control the behaviour and well-being of the cells inside.

In his review article Professor Derby looks at experiments where porous structures have been made through bioprinting. They are then placed in the body to help act as a scaffold to encourage cell growth. The cells colonise the structure and it either dissolves or becomes part of the body. This type of treatment can help patients suffering from problems such as cavity wounds. Clinical trials are currently taking place around the world to perfect this technology, and Professor Derby says it is moving towards becoming an established form of science.

Professor Derby also looks at how stem cells are being grown in printed structures that have been impregnated with certain chemicals. The chemicals are inserted during the printing process and can determine the type of cell the stem cells develop into. For example stem cells could be programmed to become cells that make up bone tissue or cartilage.