An Australian hospital is to be the first to feature a unit dedicated to developing 3D tissue-printing.
The “biofabrication” institute in Herston Health Precinct, Brisbane, will be a space where doctors are able to develop techniques to engineer new tissue using advanced clinical scanning, modeling and 3D printing.
“It will be the first time a biomanufacturing institute will be co-located with a high-level hospital,” said Queensland minister for health, Cameron Dick.
The facility, planned to open in 2017, will be a collaboration between the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), the Metro North Hospital and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) Health Service. Its two floors will encompass a range of tissue engineering research areas, as well as educational spaces and innovation hubs.
“Our vision for healthcare is that the biofabrication institute will pave the way for 3D printers to sit in operating theatres, ready to print tissue as needed, in our hospitals of the future,” said Dick.
The collaboration looks to mark a significant step forward for the medical use of 3D printing. The field is still in a nascent state, but there have been a number of breakthroughs in recent months. One of the issues that have plagued researchers has been finding a means to supply blood to the printed material. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in the US, however, recently developed a method for 3D printing tissue that allowed blood vessels and nerves to grow into the implants.
The Holy Grail for many researchers will be the application of this technology to creating complex organs such as kidneys. In the short term 3D printing is more likely to prove useful when replacing broken cartilage and bone. Again, the obstacle here is coming up with methods to keep the implants alive in the body, and to stop them from being rejected.
“A lot of the implants we are developing, we can implant into a patient and as the tissue grows back, it is not rejected, the scaffold will reabsorb over time and the tissue will grow even more and eventually the implant is gone,” says QUT associate professor Mia Woodruff. “We don’t always have to use metallic implants any more, we can develop really high-spec composite materials that dissolve as the tissue heals.”
Noting that organ transplant lists are “endless” at the moment, Woodruff claimed that the “end game” for the new institute would be the ability to 3D print artificial organs. Westworld-style android-printing might not be on the cards, but a time when surgeons are able to manufacture organs on-demand could well be on the horizon.