A team of researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina is using 3-D bio-printers in a process called biofabrication to create new tissue that they hope can one day be used to grow human organs in labs for use in transplants. Nathan Frandino reports.
With tissue cells at their fingertips, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina are paving the way to make lab-grown tissue and organs a reality. And they're doing it through biofabrication. The team is led by Dr Michael Yost. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. MICHAEL YOST, ASSOCIATE CHAIRMAN OF SURGERY FOR RESEARCH, MEDICAL UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, SAYING: "Biofabrication just means using some basic techniques in engineering to create new tissue and tissue components in order to improve the health care of Americans." The process starts with bio-inks, which are complex solutions of nutrition like glucose and proteins, along with cells and more. (nats) "So this would typically have at least 1.5 million cells in it." The tissue cells are then taken to the Palmetto Printer, the university's 3-D bioprinter. The engineers use a touch screen to set the volume of ink, then the bio-printing begins. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. MICHAEL YOST, ASSOCIATE CHAIRMAN OF SURGERY FOR RESEARCH, MEDICAL UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, SAYING: "And with our 3-D bio-printer, we've been able to create new microvascular networks that we can then grow new tissues in very key areas such as pancreas, liver and kidney." Those microvascular networks - seen here - are vital to life. They allow for nutrition to be absorbed properly. While the university has been working on biofabrication since 2003, progress has picked up significantly in recent years, says researcher Sarah Grace Dennis. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SARAH GRACE DENNIS, RESEARCH SPECIALIST, MEDICAL UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, SAYING: "When I got here a year ago, we were printing just a-cellular bio-inks to see if patterns could be printed, now we are printing skeletal muscle replica implants that we've been implanting into rats." Eventually, the team hopes to create human organs. It's a development that's years from reality, but Yost says that with every new achievement, his team is getting incrementally closer. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. MICHAEL YOST, ASSOCIATE CHAIRMAN OF SURGERY FOR RESEARCH, MEDICAL UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, SAYING: "Tissue biofabrication is a reality and it's a reality now and if you get to come here, you get to see it. You'll get to see it. You can't touch it, but you'll see it and think this is real. And this is really human."