There are a lot of people waiting for organ transplants and not many organs to give them. This has led to a lot of interest in creating organs in a laboratory. One of the most promising of these routes is 3D printing organs.
Traditional 3D printing of organs works like regular 3D printing. First, scientists prepare the material they are printing with. In organ printing this is often a mix of stem cells. The 3D printer then puts tiny dots of this mixture out onto a sheet layer by layer, slowly building up the organ. The stem cells then grow together to create a solid organ.
This approach had a problem however: it was really difficult to create blood vessels in these organs. Without blood vessels the organs couldn’t get blood and they wouldn’t work. Recently, researchers at Harvard have developed a method that has the potential to solve this.
In their printing method (called SWIFT), a bunch of stem cells are mixed together into a gel that has a similar texture to mayonnaise. They then put this gel into a mold in the shape of the organ. They use a 3D printer to inject trails of ink into the gel. These gel trails are inserted in a blood vessel pattern. After the stem cells harden together into a solid organ this ink is removed. It leaves behind empty space in the shape of blood vessels, allowing blood to flow through the organ and keep it alive.
While there is a lot of work left to do before this method can be used to print full-sized organs, it is a huge step forward in 3D organ printing technology. Maybe you can be one of the scientists who helps perfect it!